Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sport at its best

I have a dream. It’s a never going to happen unless I win lotto dream, but it’s still there. It’s actually a dream of both my wife and I. One day in the future, most likely after our girls have grown up, we spend a European Summer following the Golden League Athletic competition.

The Golden League is a series of 6 (sometimes one more) athletics meets held in various European cities. For certain events, if an athlete wins all 6 of the competitions they win $1m in Gold. The meets this year (and usually every year) were held in Berlin, Oslo, Rome, Paris, Zurich and Brussels from mid June to the start of September. Travelling around Europe for a couple months, watching the greatest athletes in the world: pure bliss.

Now I love athletics. Really love it, love it in fact more than any other sport. Now for example I love AFL, but I have never gone to watch a match in which my team (the Adelaide Crows) was not playing (as I write this, Collingwood is belting Richmond on the TV, but I feel no desire to settle down and watch; though admittedly I will often watch non-Crows matches on TV). I also love cricket, but even though I have Foxtel I never bother to watch a test match that doesn’t feature Australia. I did watch some of the Indian Twenty20 comp, but it was a mere curiosity. I think baseball is a great sport – my wife gave me the Ken Burns documentary series a couple years ago and I could watch the DVDs again and again – but unless the Yankees are playing, I can’t be bothered.

But athletics? It doesn’t matter who is competing. I have gone to watch the local Telstra Grand Prix Competitions even though no one really of much note has been competing. I enjoy seeing some young up and comers come on up.  I just love everything about the sport and just revel in the delight of seeing athletes competing (at this point it is probably no surprise to discover I was a bit of a runner in my younger days).

But the Golden League is something else; not just good athletes, but the greatest in the world.

One of the best moments of my life was in 2000 when on the night of the 28th of September, my wife and I were in the stands watching the athletics session at the Sydney Olympics. On offer that night was the Men’s Long Jump Final, the Men’s and Women’s 200m Finals, the last events of the Decathlon,and the Women’s High Jump preliminaries (there were a few others but I have to admit they escape me at the moment). It was the night, Australian Jai Taurima duelled with the great  Ivan Pedroso in the long jump. The final featured two Australians (Peter Burges was the other), and the crowd of well over 100,000 was screaming and stomping for each of them as they did their jumps. After three rounds Tourima was first, Pedroso second, Burges was sixth (where he would finish). Tourima and Pedroso had both jumped 8.34m, but Torima was in the lead on a count back (his second best jump was better). TaurimaQualifying

In the fourth round Pedroso jumped 8.41m to take the lead; Tourima, jumping last, jumped 8.40m. In the 5th round Pedroso fouled, and then Tourima uncorked an Australian record of 8.49m. At this point the noise generated by the crowd was as loud as any I’ve ever heard – and it was all for one person. In the last round the crowd cheered for Pedroso – clapped as he began his run-up and then all 100,000 let out an “oh” when the scoreboard flashed up his jump – 8.55m. The crowd, try as it might, could not lift Tourima one last time, and his last jump of 8.28m was not enough.

It was an amazing contest, and one of the few times that an Australian was in contention in the athletics. In the weeks after a number of people thought we were lucky that the long jump was on the night that we picked. I told them that actually I had picked the night because I knew the long jump was featured. As an athletics nut I had watched the World Athletics Championships in 1999 at Seville and seen Toruima come 4th, another Australian Shane Hair came 5th, and I knew that Australian record holder Peter Burges, who was injured was also a chance. So when I studied the ballot for tickets, I made the night with the men’s long jump my number one preference, figuring there was a good chance an Aussie would be in the final. But I didn’t think it would be as good as it was.

A couple nights later we were back in the stadium and saw the men’s 800m final, where my favourite 800m runner of all time, Wilson Kipketer, came second in a pathetically slow final. I was shattered. I was also in ecstasy that I had just seen an Olympic 800m final.berlin_2009_logo

All this is a long round about way of pointing out the World Athletics Championships start tonight in Berlin . It’s a great event – in some ways better than the Olympics. One of the main reasons it’s better is that because it is not the Olympics Channel 7 isn’t broadcasting, instead it’s on SBS. And SBS, because they have an odd belief that people like to see sport live, do sport better than anyone else.

This year, once again the men’s long jump is one of the best chances for Australian success – Mitchell Watt and Fabrice Lapierre are in the top 10 for the year – Lapierre is ranked 3rd. Also to watch of course is the pole vault with Olympic Champion Steve Hooker – he has won every competition but one since then. My big hope is Sally McLellan in the 100m Hurdles. She is ranked 2nd in the world and has been running brilliantly of late. The final is on Wednesday night (about 5:15am on Thursday morning in Australia), and while I’ve got the timer all set on the DVD recorder, I think I’ll make the effort and get up for that one.

But that’s just the Aussies we’ve also got Usain Bolt versus Tyson Gaye in the 100m; Wariner versus Brown in the 400m; Blanka Vlasic in the high jump; Isinbaeva in the pole vault, Galkina in the steeplechase. Ah me, what bliss!

No comments: