Around the world, we’re all watching the Olympics and marveling at what a show it has become. I’m in South Africa right now down near Durban and am not seeing the NBC coverage, but rather what sounds like coverage coming out of the BBC – still it’s a show. And I mean that in both a good sense and a bad sense. Truth is, athletics has many wonderful stories of human triumph and tears - with a little larceny and controversy occasionally thrown in. Right now the larceny is over the few drug cheats plus the badminton players who deliberately lost their matches so as to play in a weaker pool. The controversy seems to be over NBC’s decision to tape delay the major events instead of showing them live. Here in South Africa we see everything live so I’m not bothered by NBC’s corporate decision, and neither am I surprised. Corporations are in business to make a profit, not to win accolades from the purists.
Speaking of purists – I suppose I’m one of them when it comes to track and field. Since the first Olympics in 765 BC, athletics has stayed true to its roots. It's still about who can run the fastest, jump the furthest, and throw the best. But because people are involved, it's always been about more than just the numbers.
My favorite event so far has been the men’s 10,000 meter final won by Mo Farah of Great Britain with the silver medal going to 26 year old Galen Rupp of the U.S. As a long time subscriber to Track and Field News and a former distance runner myself, I have followed Galen’s career with great interest. He’s steadily progressed over the years while nevertheless getting regularly thrashed by the east African runners who have dominated world distance running for the last three decades. But then last year a breakthrough – Galen became only the second non-African to ever break 27 minutes in his signature event – the 10,000 meters. Since then he’s added a superlative last lap kick and now suddenly he is the Olympic silver medalist.
But here’s the story. Though from different countries and of different skin color, Mo Farah and Galen are close friends and teammates. They train together. They encourage each other. The other night, mid-way through the six and a quarter mile race, Mo, the more experienced runner of the two and the Olympic favorite, noticing Galen getting anxious as several runners started to pull away, tapped his friend on the shoulder and confidently told him to relax, that those runners would be coming back. And they did. Then later as Mo crossed the finish line he immediately looked back for Galen who was less than half a second behind, sprinting for all he was worth, having followed Mo through the tangle of runners, now mouth and eyes wide in realization that he’d secured a medal behind his friend. As Galen crossed the line, the two teammates found each other and hugged. Ahh…what a race and what an example of all that is right and good in these Olympic Games.
Umhlanga, South Africa