Stuck inside with just the athletics for company
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An emotional gold for Ukraine at the World Indoor Championships
It’s two steps forward and one step back for me in my training righereht now. Just a few weeks after returning to running from injury, that invisible sniper that has been stalking our lands for the last two years finally got me. I had thought that maybe I was too quick and nimble for it, dancing my way somehow around its traps, but alas no, eventually Mr Covid-19 has tracked me down.
Being a fully vaccinated, healthy 38-year-old means it has been a fairly mild illness, with a couple of days of flu-like symptoms and now already, after just four days, I feel completely fine. However I’ve been warned against rushing back to running too quickly, regardless of how I feel, so I’m going to rest for a few more days in any case, just to be safe.
In some ways it was a good weekend to be confined to my bedroom, as it was the weekend of the World Indoor Athletics Championships.
To be honest, I usually skip watching the indoor races, simply because I need to limit my TV watching time, and, well, they’re just not quite as grandiose and as competitive as the big outdoor championships. But, stuck in my room, I had the perfect excuse to indulge what has always been my guilty pleasure, which is to watch an entire athletics championships play out in real time.
It’s a funny sport in some ways. At times, especially in the early rounds, the TV cameras lingered on the crowd, and the spectators looked bored, scrolling through their phones, staring around here and there. But this was the ebb. The flow would come.
That’s the thing about the sport, it’s a slow burning drama, and to fully appreciate it, you have to allow yourself to be slowly drawn in, to sit down and read the whole thing, not just skip to the final chapter to see how it ends. That misses too much, and is why I think a highlights package can never really capture the full appeal of athletics.
Over three days (in this case), athletes come out onto the track to posture, to run, to scream, to wilt, to jump, to tumble, to break records, to give everything they have just to get through the heats, to put themselves on the line, and eventually, without fail, if you allow yourself to get fully drawn in, to bring you to tears.
Once you’re plugged in, you realise there are so many narratives intertwining that it’s like a Gabriel García Márquez novel. Indeed, over the weekend, it really felt like getting dragged into a good book you didn’t want to put down. I barely wanted to take my eyes off the action to make myself a cup of tea.
In what other sport can you switch from an epic duel between a woman from the Bahamas and a Dutch woman (in the 400m), to a young Norwegian superstar taking on some raw Kenyans and Ethiopians (in the men's 1500m), to a giant Venezuelan yelping and prowling and like some Marvel superhero leaping further than any woman ever before.
There were so many highlights over the weekend, featuring so many athletes from so many corners of the world that I was constantly close to tears. I was so happy for Ajee Wilson, who has spent her whole career finishing in silver and bronze behind Caster Semenya and Francine Niyonsaba - who, for no fault of their own, were born with elevated testosterone levels that made them virtually impossible to beat. Wilson here finally claimed her first global title.
I also loved watching Marc Scott show some good old fashioned British I’m-having-none-of-it attitude to get amongst the Kenyans and Ethiopians to grab bronze in the 3000m.
And then there was Yaroslava Mahuchikh from Ukraine, having not trained for months, having fled her war-torn country by car and taking three days to reach the championships in Serbia, stepping up to win the high jump. “I was defending my country on the track,” she said in an emotional interview afterwards.
Amazingly, after the three days, the medal table was topped by Ethiopia, a country that doesn’t actually have a single indoor track. That’s another wonderful thing about athletics, it’s not about money or having the best facilities. It is about talent, determination and application.
So I just hope that if I have to get ill again in the near future, that it can perhaps be in late July please, when the outdoor World Athletics Championships will be taking place in Eugene, Oregon.
In her own words
I wrote recently about Jasmin Paris' amazing "fun run" at the insane Barkley Marathons, but if you want to get the full story, Jasmin has written a blog about her race. She's actually a good writer and gives you a really great sense of what it was like out there, and just how hard that race actually is.
Quote of the week
I just love the attitude and pure poetry in this quote by US college runner Cade Flatt, who won the national indoor 800m title last week. After the race, he said:
The first 200 I wanted to get out, I wanted to drag these guys into deep waters. I wanted to make it hurt the whole time, make them question why they’re in this event. I went out there with bad intentions.
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