It’s funny how we can procrastinate sometimes despite having everything laid out in front of us. I started this column back on Saturday, diligently starting the process of building the news and notes of the week as I always do. The skeleton inputted online, I then went about my daily writing and slowly fleshed out the article from there. But with just this introduction and the conclusion left to write, I tabled the piece and went about my day off getting stuff done around the house.
And so here I am, midnight encroaching as the moon hangs fat over the Willamette Valley, and I have all the body and none of the bookends completed. It got me to thinking about how various athletes can see their careers affect us in different ways. Some have that one transcendent season and then fade away into obscurity, a statistic tucked into a dusty almanac on some library shelf. Others don’t even impress us with their results so much as their longevity, sticking around year after year defiantly and finding ways to make themselves useful to a team despite lacking any direct winning instinct of their own. Some are early bloomers, some are late bloomers, some deliver only when the pressure’s off and some are so clutch that you know never to leave your seat in the last two minutes of a contest when they’re on the field of battle.
Each weekly edition is a lot like that. Sometimes I’m left scrambling on a Wednesday night to find enough material to cobble together a viable tome for the week, either a hectic work schedule or an apathetic week in sports leaving me hamstrung before I even get started. Sometimes I just fall into my own lethargy and procrastinate. And sometimes they pop right out and assert themselves, one topic falling over another to get noticed enough to make the final cut of main topics.
You might say that this week presented a combination of types two and three. I find more and more that, as I mature in my present sports interests and continue my ever-gluttonous expansion into new realms of sports by which I can be fascinated and fill the gaps in my obsessed life, there is more to write about than space to be occupied. I’ve also found the same camaraderie in the new forums here at Sports Nickel that all of us writers found in another time and place years ago and that, frankly, I’d feared might be lost forever in some elemental way as the group fractured over the years. So I guess the procrastination on this last section (even though it’s ultimately the first section) wasn’t completely unfounded.
But it should all be worth it. After all, the only thing lost in the equation are those precious few hours of sleep I would otherwise have still been awake through. As the second century begins for A Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America takes off with this week’s offering, I’ve taken the time to reevaluate how to let less slip through the cracks in the coverage of these otherwise-ignored events of each week. In response you’ll find another regular section to go alongside “Tooling Around the Net” and “On the Docket” on the back page as a solution for the present and future. After all, if you’re not growing you’re dying, as they say. And as the odometer flips to triple digits, we’ve got to expand with the times! So sit back relax and enjoy another wonderful week in the world of non-traditional sports as I guide you along the way…
NEVER LET A WORLD RECORD SLIP YOUR ATTENTION…
When it comes to track and field, we’re usually more likely inclined to talk about the runners in the glory events — either those athletes whose sprint kicks faster than any other man or woman on earth, or those who push the human body to the limits in distances stretching from the mythical mile to the even more myth-shrouded marathon. What gets lost in the shuffle are those middle distances at 400m and 800m, the rare provenance of a truly transcendent star like Denmark’s Kenyan-born star Wilson Kipketer. Kipketer, who never did win Olympic gold (taking silver to Nils Schumann at the 2000 Sydney Games and bronze in Athens when they returned to their ancestral homeland in 2004. By then he was 32… but it was his legendary run in the summer of 1997 that set his name in the books. At successive meets in Stockholm, Zurich and Cologne in July and August of that year Kipketer first tied the 16-year-old world record of 1:41.73 held by Sebastian Coe and then lowered it by nearly half a second and ultimately down to 1:41.11.
The record has stood ever since. Kipketer retired in August 2005, a year removed from his last futile shot at Olympic glory. Having missed his opportunity to compete for Denmark in his prime at the Atlanta Games of 1996 — the IAAF and IOC ruled that, though he had been living in his adopted homeland since moving there as an exchange student in 1990 and had even won his first world championship in Gothenburg for his new nation, he was not a full citizen and thus ineligible for Olympic competition — Kipketer was denied his greatest chance at gold. But all the medals, from his Olympic silver and bronze to his three straight world titles (not to mention a gold and two silver medals at the indoor worlds and the 2002 European championship), mean little compared to that solitary number — 1:41.11 — that made him more immortal than a championship.
A world record in any sport binds a man to the chain of events which proceeded him throughout a sports history. Kipketer was but the most recent in a chain of men stretching from Coe back through time to Cuban great Alberto Juantorena, 1972 Olympic gold medalist Dave Wottle (who set his record right here in Eugene, Oregon), and even 1930s Nazi star Rudolf Harbig (who would die on the ultimately futile march on the Eastern Front in Ukraine in 1944). It goes right on back to the first recorded name: Ted Meredith, who set the first officially recognized number of 1:51.9 as a high schooler from Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania, just another day at the track as he won Olympic gold at the 1912 Games in Stockholm. His record would stand for sixteen years, one of those marks that has changed hands rapidly a few times in a short stretch and then lingers in wait for the next middle-distance great.
This we discovered that man, as Kipketer now becomes the seventeenth man in the history of track and field to know what it feels like to be a former world-record holder in the 800m. At the ISTAF meet in Berlin, one of the races not accepted to this year’s IAAF Diamond League calendar, it was another Kenyan (albeit one who chose to remain in his native land) who lowered the 800m mark as David Rushida shaved two-hundredths of a second off his expatriate compatriot’s record pace. Winner of the World Junior Championships at the distance four years ago in Beijing and the two-time defending African champion, the 21-year-old Rushida has been progressing up the sport for some time now.
Last September he set a new African record at the IAAF Grand Prix in Rieti, Italy with a time 0f 1:42.01. Earlier this year, at the Bislett Games in Stockholm (the same city where Kipketer tied Coe’s record in 1997 and Meredith set the very first official mark 98 years ago), Rushida flirted with the 1:42 barrier again as he shattered the 31-year-old meet mark (and what was at the time the world record) of 1:42.33 set by Coe in 1979 with his own 1:42.04. A month later in Belgium, he broke his own personal best by nearly half a second when he hit 1:41.54 for another victory.
It was all ultimately prologue for his arrival in Berlin for the first time since last year’s disastrous World Championships on the same famous blue track of the Olympic Stadium where his first shot at senior glory was dashed in the semifinals by seven-hundredths of a second. Running in the third heat, he had raced faster than four of the qualifiers for the finals. But due to the way the rules are set up, the then-20-year-old Rushida was left to stew on the sidelines as his chance left him by. Returning to the Olympic Stadium track this year, he set out to make amends for last year’s faltered step in his progression. And boy, did he ever do that. Already leading the Diamond League standings with just tomorrow’s Memorial van Damme in Brussels to close out the season, Rushida set out on this second-tier meet with a vengeance and claimed his just vengeance. As he told the press after his record-breaking run, “This was my first real attempt to break the world record. I knew I was good, I had trained very hard. Now that I have run that time, I can say I have the ability to improve and go faster.”
[pullquote]“This was my first real attempt to break the world record. I knew I was good, I had trained very hard. Now that I have run that time, I can say I have the ability to improve and go faster.”[/pullquote]With the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea next year as a prelude to the 2012 London Olympics, we could see Rushida gracing our news more regularly in the near future. Keep your eye out, because he could be getting ready to shave down that time even farther. Kipketer dropped his best thrice in his banner year of 1997, and he was at the prime of his career at 25. Remember that Rushida is just barely legal enough to drink a beer when he comes to this country… he still has a few more years of progression in his system. He could very well put up the first sub-1:41 time in the 800m, and Michael Johnson has to be getting at least a little uneasy about his last time still standing on the record books after Usain Bolt took the 200m away from him in Beijing. Rushida is eleven years younger than Johnson was when he set the current standard at 400m at 43.18 seconds, yet his personal best set this February in Sydney is just 2.32 seconds off Johnson’s time. Rushida is running nearly two seconds faster at the distance than Johnson was at this age. It all may just be a matter of time before Rushida grabs his mark as the most dominant middle-distance runner of the new century. Watch out and stay alert, for history is always in the making…