Athletics – Golden delight and heartache in the fallout from Beijing
The world’s best athletes headed straight out of Beijing and into the final month of the international track season, with two Golden League meetings in Zurich and Brussels. It was more gold for Pamela Jelimo of Kenya, the 19-year old (officially, most people in Africa suspect that’s not entirely accurate, but anyway) phenom who has won every 800m race of the year by about 20m.
She did the same in Zurich and in Brussels, running an incredible time of 1:54.01, the third fastest in history. A “slower” 1:55.16 was enough to secure her six out of six in the Golden League series. She is probably, along with Yelena Isinbayeva, the most dominant female athlete in the world today, and it’s difficult to believe that this time last year, there was not even a hint that she was on the horizon. There can be few more spectacular debut seasons, especially in a middle distance event for women – the record books, if you look at them, are dominated by Eastern European performances from the 1980′s, and Jelimo has record keepers scrambling to update them. It’s spectacular, and it earned Jelimo her share of the $1 million jackpot.
It turned out to be a pretty big share – all of it. Blanka Vlasic, Croatia’s high jump champion, has seen her superb season fall away badly since the Olympic Games. She was surprised in Beijing by Tia Hellebaut of Belgium, despite clearing 2.05m, and in Brussels, she lacked any edge at all, going out at 2.01m, and losing (on countback, again) to Germany’s Arianne Friedrich. The $500,000 she would have won would have gone some way to softening the blow of the Olympic silver, because she had been one of the red hot favourites for Beijing Gold. However, she’ll now end the season with not one, but two near misses, both on countback, but such are the margins for error in pro sports.
The Paralympic Games in Beijing
Speaking of professional sports, the Paralympics continues to grow, and certainly here in South Africa, it has received more media exposure than has previously been the case, which is excellent. It’s not yet up to the level of the Olympic Games, but it’s growing. 4000 athletes in Beijing, up from Athens, and Sydney. It’s still “immature” in the sense that it’s not accessible to the whole world’s population – the “gene pool” in the Games is narrow and so you’re not seeing the best naturally talented athletes just yet – no Caribbean athletes in the top 8 of the sprint events, for example. No Ethiopians in the distance events, very few Kenyans, etc. That’s an “access” problem. But it will change, and the technology balance and equal opportunities for all disabled athletes is something that will hopefully develop out of this Paralympic growth.
Apart from the increased media exposure, another sign of the growth is that the Paralympics are now producing more frequent positive drug tests. That’s an indication that the “Olympic spirit”, traditionally defined as courage, determination, inspiration and equality, are now giving way to “higher, faster, stronger…at all costs”, and winning is starting to becoming the only thing. That’s a shame, but perhaps is an inevitable consequence of the heightened exposure and importance of the Games. The Paralympics remain closer to the true vision of the Games than the able-bodied Games do, but that won’t last long – more media means more prestige, which means more sponsorship, and more money, and that invites people to do whatever is necessary to win. One thing it will do is raise the depth of competition, which is a good thing – one of the 200m swimming events was won by 11 seconds. A track final had only four competitors. In time, those margins will narrow, which is good for the growth of the Games.
South Africa will have a good Paralympic Games, far better than the able-bodied Games. The media will compare them, which is unfair for the reasons described above, but all will be forgotten and SA will move onto its next disaster Olympics as a result. On a positive note, South Africa does boast Natalie du Toit, who is the “Phelps” of the Paralympic Games – she’ll try to win 5 medals, possibly all gold, and it may have been 6 if the SA administrators hadn’t bungled an entry for the sixth event (seriously…). She’s a superstar of either Games, having competed in the 10km event at last month’s Olympic Games as well.
As for Oscar Pistorius, he’s back in the Paralympics which he insists is not a “consolation prize” (his words) after failing to reach the Olympic Games. It’s contradictory to the messages of six months ago, where he said he wanted to run in the Olympics to have a “decent level of competition” (his words again). Readers of this site will know my opinion on this one, but for someone else’s (which also captures a big part of the problem), this is the best article written on it so far: Pistorius article – Daily Telegraph
For the rest, the media has continued to spew forth garbage about it – “the only one with a double amputation”, they say, not recognizing that this is in fact the reason he should NOT be running against single leg amputees – that’s a point we made, along with Marlon Shirley (who fell in the 100m final yesterday) and a number of other people during the debate. I’ve no issue with him competing in the Paralympics (obviously), but he’s denying single leg amputees gold medals when he really should be in a separate category. You watch that 100m race and tell me it’s possible for one guy to be that much faster over the last 50m than everyone else. Not even Usain Bolt had that kind of advantage…
The Paralympics continues into next week, and should throw up some incredible inspirational stories. Do yourself a favour and watch, and you’ll be amazed at how some athletes overcome their disadvantages – a Chinese swimmer, double-leg amputee, and with only one arm, winning the backstroke, for example. But let’s hope the Games don’t head the same way as the Olympics, where the guy with the most money or least scruples can win – in some respects, it’s already happened!
Join us later for a look at some comebacks and “bounce-backs” from the world of sport over the last two weeks…did someone say Lance Armstrong…?