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Thursday, 21 October 2010


It occurred to me that I haven't exactly covered myself in sporting glory in my previous posts, so this is an attempt to set the record straight(ish).
I have mentioned before, here and elsewhere, my antipathy toward school sports. I particularly disliked winter sports, such as football and anything that involved scrabbling about in mud and bad weather. Spring and summer, therefore, ensured that if sports had to take place, they did so in reasonably clement surroundings. Moreover, if you ignored cricket (and I usually tried to), most summer sports were individual rather than team based and therefore the only person I was letting down was myself.
I was reasonably happy to have a go at most athletic disciplines. I was quite happy to put the shot (although where I ‘put’ it wasn’t very far), long jump and triple jump (or hop, skip and jump as it was known then). I went along with the high jump until it started to get to a level that I regarded as plain daft. Even the javelin posed no problems, until I started to think about it (I have a penchant for over-complicating things). Once I had lost the unconscious ability to just chuck something as hard as I could, and started to fret about when to let go and how, I naturally became a danger to myself and everyone around me. However, I was happiest (using a very loose definition of that word) when I was running. In this discipline there was nobody to let down and no equipment with which to become enmeshed. It was just me and the distance, and if the distance won, well so be it.
I seem to remember that the running distances then were 100, 220, 440 and 880 yards and, of course, the mile. I lacked the stamina for the longer distances (probably because of an early addiction to the evil weed), so the mile and 880 yard races usually involved me crossing the line when everyone who was remotely interested had long since cleared off to pastures new. Neither did I have the concentrated power that was necessary to succeed at 100 or 220 yards. However, I could make a reasonable fist of the 440 yards. By “reasonable fist”, I mean that I did not always finish last, which in my terms was success indeed.
On this particular day in around 1967 you find me lining up for the 440 yard heat on a less than sunny school day. These were the heats that would decide the contestants at the annual Sports Day. My record as one who “did not always finish last” meant that the contestants in my heat consisted of others like myself, and those who most definitely did finish last. This was the heat for those who were usually consigned to the goal in football, or who had been languishing behind a permanent sick note from their mother. This motley crew lined up at the staggered starting points, with me on the outside and leading position. I was never really happy with this position because it was impossible to judge how well you were doing until the point when the ‘stagger’ unwound and the rest of the pack steamed past you, by which time it was too late.
On this occasion, I made my mind up to try and give a good account of myself and, from the word “Go” (literally in this case) I pounded ahead as fast as I possibly could. With heart pounding and laboured breathing I waited for the moment when the rest of the contestants would thunder past me and was then completely perplexed when it did not happen. I just was not used to running without having someone else ahead of me. I didn’t dare to look behind me as I knew I would either fall over or, at the very least, stumble and watch the others storm past. All I could do was to run and keep running at full pelt and wait to see what would happen. All the while, I kept waiting for that familiar moment when one or more runners would pass me. As I drew ever closer to the Finish Line, I began to panic. I had never won anything sporting in my life and it seemed to go against all the laws of nature that I should do so now. And yet, I did. I crossed the Finish Line with no-one in front of me and with people still there to cheer me home. Even the P.E. Teacher, who normally would not spit on me if I was on fire, was forced to remark “Well done, Whiteland”. I collapsed in a heap, astounded with myself.
It was only later that a creeping cynicism began to tarnish my victory. It dawned on me that my fellow racers might have realised that winning this heat would inevitably involve them in racing, yet again, at the Sports Day. This annual event was, for me and my less sporting compatriots, usually a pleasant day in the sunshine watching the exertions of others and cheering enthusiastically for our House. Winning the heat would rather put a dampener on an otherwise pleasant day. I therefore began to wonder if I had not so much won the heat, as that the others had made absolutely sure that they would lose it. I would never know, but these thoughts did rather take the shine off my victory.
You will be pleased to know that the natural sporting order of things was restored at the Sports Day, with me coming in a creditable last against the more skilled and speedy opposition. I did, however, have a tinge of jealousy as I noted that the combatants from my heat were lazily disporting themselves around the field. Oh well, some you win and...