Saturday, 4 August 2012

Dotlympics 2012: Day 7


I watched the women's 10,000 metres final. Ten thousand metres? That's got to be like 90 berjillokilotrillion laps of the track or something. I imagine there'll still be some stragglers finishing now.

In fact, it's only (only!) 25 laps of the track. The new Olympic Stadium looks mightily impressive, I have to say. But if only they'd taken a leaf out of the swimmers' books it could have been much more modest in size and, therefore, expenditure. All of the running events on the track are in multiples of 100 metres. Only a few are multiples (or divisors) of 400 metres, which is of course the length of a circuit. You know it: I'm suggesting that they should run lengths. Think of the saving.

Nevertheless, 10,000 metres is divisible by 400 and so instead of a hundred lengths the world's fastest (skinniest) women set of for twenty-five of the finest. It was an immediate object lesson - and god knows it was badly needed -  that human beings are superior to greyhounds, who need a rabbit on a stick for this type of work.

Distance running events are, of course, dominated by athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya. They practice at high altitudes in their homelands and so when they come down to sea level the air is like gravy to them. So it was something of a surprise to see the opening stages dominated by the three Japanese runners. It was a scene with strong echoes of one of those Japanese game shows where people put themselves through mental and physical torture in the name of entertainment: seeing who can sweat the most by dancing in a sauna, running the gauntlet of an actual cannon, gargling with live eels - you know the type of thing. After a few laps, and with a phalanx of puzzled Africans sauntering behind them as they ploughed on bravely at full speed, their faces were masks of anguish.

The speed of the race was very much something that impressed me. These women were all running considerably faster than I ever have, I quickly realised. And they still had eighteen laps to go. In the final analysis, the winner's time was a shade over 31 minutes for a shade over six miles. That's enough to make me think that all the finalists should be elected Pope, before you even noticed that the world record was a full two minutes faster. Yikes.

Running races are not the most hazardous of Olympic sports - unless someone breaks the world javelin record with some significant gusto - and so the competitors bravely ploughed on avoiding a few minor hazards: mechanical rabbit droppings, the Polish bloke who won the shot putt legging it across the track to see his coach and discarded eels. So it was something of a surprise to see a bunch of tressle tables come out after about ten laps. Ah, of course, this must be the health and safety games. A posse of men in bibs offering tempting, frosty skeins of water, coke, lager and Cup a Soup appeared. There was even a portable shithouse, obviously booked at a time when the organisers thought that Paula Radcliffe might enter.

The athletes, like me, had never seen such a thing at a 10,000 metres race before and shunned the tabard army. The only runner I saw avail themselves of the opportunity for refreshment was one of the Japanese trio, whose suspicion was overwhelmed by the fact she'd successfully run away all her bodily moisture (and soup) in the early stages.

By this point, the race had boiled down to a hardcore of two Ethiopians and two Kenyans, now lapping the field. Eventually they came by to put one on the Japanese runners, who now looked in so much agonising pain that they'd surely finish the race with pall bearers. With six hundred metres to go, the reigning Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia kicked for home. As she passed the bell she was already thirty metres to the good, and the man who rang it mouthed "fuckin' hell". Dibaba tore round the final circuit at a flabbergasting pace for a woman who'd just run 9,600 metres. The last lap was completed in a minute and some change, during which time I would be able to run 96 metres. It was a genuinely extraordinary moment. I was awestruck. If she had been a greyhound, she'd have caught the hare up on the back straight.

Only on later replays did it become obvious that she was broadly smiling all the way through her victorious tour, through a sea of the dying and the dead. Like all the victors in the London 2012 track and field events she wins a gold medal, a magnum of Coca Cola and a fuck off a camel.

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