As the Athletic World Champs drew to a dramatic close last Sunday evening, amid world records, fireworks and…K-pop?…some endearing memories were created for me. In sport as in life, there are highs and lows, the occasional controversy, and the events…no pun intended…in Daegu over the last couple of weeks didn’t disappoint. Obvious highlights were witnessing the record breaking Jamaican lads cruising to gold in the 4x100m relay, and Usain Bolt’s individual triumph in the 200m after his disastrous 100m. Some of the high octane competition and nail biting finales in the field events were captivating, and to even see the daredevil women’s pole vault at close quarters was to gain new respect for the bravery of these athletes. Blade runner Oscar Pistorius was inspirational, and to be a part of the standing ovation afforded to several Korean athletes in the T53 wheelchair class, in a country not renowned for it’s respect of disabilities, was truly moving…perhaps a sign of Korea heading in the right direction in terms of equality? I truly hope so.
On a personal level, my particular highlight was seeing British runner Mo Farah, after being narrowly pipped into silver position in the 10,000m, bounce back and win the 5,000m gold. Rather than grumbling about missing out on gold, he proudly accepted the silver and dug deep to win in what was an exceptional race. Not bad for a former P.E. teacher from Mogadishu / Hounslow.
The controversy I mentioned was of course down to the high profile disqualifications for false starts…most notably the irrepressible Mr. Bolt. Devastated as he was, an athlete of his caliber, as he so convincingly proved, will nearly always get another chance to bounce back. But this cannot be said for another victim of what are so obviously harsh draconian rules.
Yongli Wei, the lead girl in the Chinese 4x100m relay team, was shown the red card of shame/disqualification after one false start. Rules are rules, but to only get one chance before elimination is an extremely severe punishment, as of course the whole team, three of whom haven’t put a foot wrong, are also ruled out of perhaps what may be a once in a lifetime ‘finals’ appearance. The poor girl, with the whole stadium and the sporting world looking on, was inconsolable. I can barely imagine her suffering, feeling she had let down her team mates, the travelling supporters, and her expectant country…not to mention a dictatorial and pressurizing government…I felt very sad for her.
What these games may do is succeed in making the I.A.A.F. re-think it’s one strike and your out strategy, and bring back the two chance policy. Mind you, that didn’t do old Linford the Lunchbox Christie any good in Atlanta 1996, did it?
I am lucky enough to have been inside the stadium in Daegu three times during the games…and once in the cheap seats on the hill behind…and it was a genuinely great experience. To witness the blood, sweat and tears shed by the athletes was amazing, both by the great and the not so great, those expecting success and others with no real chance of glory, but nevertheless were so proud to represent their countries and do themselves proud. The largely Korean crowd inside the stadium were also very respectful, cheering equally for all nations, despite in many cases an innate, though in all fairness somewhat waning, xenophobia.
Overall, despite the controversies and calamities, and the triumphs and the tribulations, it was a wonderful World Champs, and once again Korea has proven to be a master at staging major sporting events.