Thursday, August 25, 2016

My Log 526 August 26 2016: More problems with post-Olympic dreams: could Bolt win the 100 while stitching some garment or other?

Those three weeks I have recently passed in watching --- obsessively, I must admit --- the Olympics, appear to have taken some kind of toll of me. Having just awakened from a three and a half hour after-lunch nap --- imagine that, three and a half hours instead of the usual half hour! --- I realize  that must tell some sort of tale, must mean I have been drained of energy, as a result of watching all those dives, those tiny Chinese figures with their perfect accomplishments from the 10 metre board;  with being bewildered by the astonishing speed of eye and reflex of the  table tennis players, again, mostly Chinese; marvelling in the incredible speed of the badminton games, that I had always thought of as being a kind of gentle patting back and forth, but that seem to have developed a speed of movement of players and shuttle almost so fast as to betray the eye.
And then, of course the big one, the athletics or track and field as it is known in this part of the world. Well, it is hardly surprising, as readers of my previous blog will understand, recording my victory as the first 88-year-old to have won the Olympic 800 metres race, hardly surprising that I have been sightly exhausted since that event. Not to mention the strain put upon me by various other events, with their titanic struggles and towering achievements, such as immense power of tiny little Almaz Ayana, of Ethiopia, as she spreadeagled the 10,000 metre field, beating them all by 150 metres, or the thrilling victory in the marathon by the Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, or the wonderful race-strategies of Mo Farah, the Somalia-born Englishman who won the 5000 and 10,000 metres races running away.
Added to all of this comes my dream of two nights ago about the
semi-finals of the men’s 100 metres. These races seem to have been won respectively by Andre de Grasse and Usain Bolt, in equal times, but with other factors clouding the likely outcome of the final. For one thing, I seem to have  qualified myself in Bolt’s semi-final, and was going on to contest the final, the prospect for which was clouded by all the Canadian hype about the unlikely possibility of the race being won by de Grasse.
Yet the cause for my anxiety about the final was this other factor: namely that during the race some stitching was mandatory, that probably Bolt would have to handle not only his opponents but to do so while being required to stitch some garment of other en route.  This was demanding a hell of a lot even of such an ineffable champion as Bolt, and since my dream was interrupted at this point, I have been carrying anxiety about its outcome with me ever since.
Of course, we all know that Bolt won it in a canter in the real event, which, for some unexplained reason, took place without my participation. Had I pulled up with a torn hamstring? Had I simply been overcome by the prospect of facing the great Bolt? Had I decided to retire in an an act of supreme sportsmanship, so as not to interfere in any way with the accolades that must descend on Bolt after his victory? (Of these choices, I like the last-named best.)
Any of these things is possible but I am still anxious about the outcome of the final. I cannot claim to have won it, I realize that, but I am still living in a state of anxiety as to the possibility of Bolt’s losing, while pausing long enough to stitch this garment of my dreams.
I hope I am not going to be dreaming any more: especially about those Russian  rhythmic gymnastics women, Margarita Mamun, who scored 19 out of 20 possible points in all four rotations, and somehow slipped under the radar of international attention, and her equally beautiful fellow Yana Kudryavtseva, both of whom had --- and as an old man with long experience I have the credentials to judge this kind of thing --- the most glorious legs ever seen on earth. 
I already have enough problems from the Olympics without piling on any more.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

My Log 525 August 19 2016: I have a daydream about winning an Olympic medal, with disastrous results for the powers-that-be

I keep having this daydream: instead of quitting track and field when I was 19, I have continued in it, and have just won the 800 meters at the Olympics. Apart from the fact I am the first 88-year-old to have won the event, my victory has created a bit of a sensation. Because right after the win, Canadian supporters have pressed a Canadian flag on me, urging me to run it around the track in a victory lap.
Unfortunately, I have to tell them, “Sorry, I can’t carry that flag.  I don’t believe in flags.”
What happens next? Am I excoriated by the entire nation, does the whole stadium rise as one to denounce me? Am I even allowed to accept the medal?
Surely I must be granted an interview to explain my action.  Faced by Ron Maclean, gibbering away at double-fast speed, I cannot hear what he says, but I gather myself enough to say, “Hang on a bit there, Ron.
“I have never believed in symbols of nationalism, whether flags or anthems. I got off to an early start with these feelings, for as a teenager in New Zealand, where it was the custom for the national anthem to be played before the movies, I embarrassed my mother by refusing to stand for it.
“You know, Ron, I once testified before a Parliamentary committee. I think the subject was immigration.  The first thing I told them was that when I came to Canada in 1954, I discovered here were two things I particularly liked about this country: it didn’t have a flag or an anthem. Unfortunately, that has changed.”
He asked me a question, but once again I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. At my age, although I am fit enough to win an Olympic title, my hearing has degenerated somewhat, and I hsd to just wait until Ron stopped the gibbering long enough to give me an opening.
I said, “I don’t think even you, Ron, could seriously argue that flags are anything more than instruments used by leaders to exert mental and emotional pressure on their citizens.  Any political leader who wants to lead his nation into a war against some other nation turns to the flag, presenting it as the symbol for everything that is virtuous in life. What a load of malarkey! I am a young man, I know, but even I can remember the town hall meetings at which the citizens gathered to farewell the volunteers who had so nobly answered the call to go and kill people.  It was, after all, part of the national tradition.
 “My Dad told me, Ron, that more than a century ago when the British colonizers of  South Africa had a problem with Dutch immigrants who were beating the English immigrants in the  theft of African land, they mobilized the young men of what was then called the Empire, who, it turned out, had been  so brainwashed that they went in their thousands, hundreds of them willingly dying to further the British imperial agenda.
“I was brought up in one of those near-colonies, a  remote, small country settled by the British and seized from the local inhabitants in a brutal war, but there was nothing unique about us New Zealanders answering that ridiculous call:   6,500 men (and 8,000 horses) went off to and fight 231 died; Canada sent 8,000 and lost 244; Australia sent 6,000 (plus about 10,000 more serving in other units), and they lost more than 500.  I am much happier that today I beat out the young men from those countries in an 800-metre race than I would have been going off with them, shoulder to shoulder, to fight somebody else’s war. Of course, a few of them had some second thoughts about what was going on around them. One  young Canadian soldier recorded that every day 15 to 30 British Tommies died from fever or dysentery, and each corpse was sewn up in a blanket, and four shillings were taken out of their last pay to cover the cost of the blanket. 'The soldier's game is not what it is cracked up to be,' he wrote home."
This was quite a long speech, far longer than the customary TV sound byte of 6.5 seconds, and when I finished I found Ron foaming at the mouth in his indignation, unable to pursue the questioning.  So I got up to leave the studio, but some managing thugs came in and told me  I was needed in the stadium to receive my winner’s accolade, my medal, and the recognition of my country which goes with it.
“Hey, guys, you’ll just have to count me out of at least part of that ceremony.  I can accept the medal, for what it is worth, but I can't, surely, be expected to stand there while the goddam national anthem is played. I don’t believe in national anthems any more than I do flags.”
The team leaders who were calling the shots began to tremble: could this turn into an international incident, could it possibly result in our nation being seen throughout the world as a nation of traitors, men without backbone? But even worse, could this possibly be used as a rallying cry for the young people of the world to do some thinking for themselves, to refuse to be dragooned into the service of our  appalling political bosses? Could such rebellion lead, for instance, to some sort of --- I don't know, let’s think of something --- let’s say, some sort of demo against our selling killing weapons to Saudia Arabia, to be used in bombing the shit out of Yemeni villages, killing thousands of mothers, children and civilian non-combatants?
Ron had recovered his sangfroid, with the appearance of these  officials intent on giving me hell.  “Well, let’s just say, we honour your achievement as an 88-year-old in showing the way to those young runners,” said Ron. “But really and truly, we didn’t realize that though you are a remarkable physical specimen for your age, you have the mental capacity of a centenarian, at best.  It is part of the package that a champion has to be sound in body and mind, so ---- wait for it, I have just heard in my earphone that you have been disqualified by Canadian team leaders, who have disowned you as an evil influence on the Games, and on all youth around the world.’
With that I am hustled out of the studio, handed over to the local constabulary, and placed in a locked cell until I could be put on the plane out of the country the next morning.
Well, it’s only a daydream, of an event where all these young people do their stuff, but leave all their goddam flags at home. What could be more subversive than that?  No wonder I ended up in jail.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

My Log 524 August 17 2016:One huge sports enthusiast am I: glorying in the Olympics, as I always do in Wimbledon, cricket and Rugby test matches, and to hell with the intellectual snobs

I am seizing a few minutes of a pause in the Olympics to write this piece, because for the last 16 days I have been spending almost all my time watching the events. I know it is fashionable, especially among people who abhor sports, to denigrate the Olympics as a corrupt, elitist, disgraceful outfit, and I don’t disagree with much of this criticism.
But for the moment at least I am not concerned with any of this: I am watching the races. When I was a kid I used to run, jump and so on myself, and was rather good at it, at a purely local level. At least I was good enough to know that I was never prepared to do the kind of training that would have been necessary to become really good.
So, after starting work as a reporter and being required to spend my Saturdays covering local sports and collecting their results, I gave up competing and playing. But the fever for sports was embedded deep within me, and in the 70 years that have since passed I have aways turned first to the sports pages of newspapers, have followed events like Wimbledon, the Olympics, World Cups of cricket and Rugby, five-day cricket test matches and 20-over bash-and-run games, and seven-a-side Rugby, the occasional World series of baseball and Stanley Cup finals, following all of these avidly without cease.
Right now, as I am prepared to tell anyone willing to listen, I am spellbound by the spectacle of these magnificent young people competing with every ounce of their being to become the best in the world. For me, this is as beautiful a spectacle as anything done by human beings, and I won’t hear anyone arguing to the contrary.
In particular, of course, I love the running events above everything, and have been sitting spellbound before the races run by Ethiopians and Kenyans, men and women, as they have in some cases so thoroughly demolished the rest of the world as to have won their races by as much as 150 yards.
(I have to pause here to watch the opening of the Decathlon, whose winner normally is considered the world’s greatest athlete. The first event, the 100 yard run, was  a record for Damian Warner, the young Canadian, getting his 10-event programme off to a rocking start. This event has been won by storied athletes of the past: Jim Thorpe, Bob Matthias, Rafer Johnson, Bruce Jenner, Daley Thompson, and we have had at least one good one in Canada, Michael Smith, who is working these Games as a CBC commentator.  Now here come the starters in the first heat of the 5,000 metres for men, won at the last Olympics by Mo Farah, of Britain [a transplanted Somalian] along with the 10,000 metres which he has already won again at these Games. Everyone is expecting him to knock off this year’s 5,000 with his usual effortless ease and superb finishing kick. A master strategist, who tends to tuck himself in behind to let others do the early work, Mo on this occasion almost came to grief as, 250 yards from the finish,  a runner alongside of him fell and almost brought him down. Never mind: he qualified for the final.)
It is the 24-tear-old Ethiopian woman Almaz Ayana, who has especially captivated me in these Games so far. A small woman, compact, attractive, just short of being thin, somehow or other she packs into that tiny frame the capacity to run so fast over long distances as to smash records that have been held for almost quarter of a century. Equipped with the most beautiful, graceful running style, it is poetry in motion to watch her, she set out to run away from the 10,000 metres field, and left them  laps behind, repeating the dose in her lap of the 5000 metres event.
This graceful economical running style seems to be common among the Ethiopians, and I am willing to argue that to watch them is a pleasure equal to what others find in attending an orchestral concert, or opera, or the like. The effort involved in these races is so great that it has brought me to tears from time to time, tears of pure pleasure, and if that puts me firmly in the class of jock, so be it. And to think that when I was a kid my coaches used to tell me that the blacks were excellent at sprints, but hopeless over the longer distance. Now, black people from east Africa totally dominate longer distance races. That they never did so when I was a kid was because they were all living under the strict, arrogant and racist control of colonial authorities, who never gave them a chance to compete with their masters. If politics has entered into world athletics, this is where it came in first and not before time.
Before I get back to watching the Games I have to say a word for the superb Fijian seven-a-side Rugby team, who won their gold medal final match by the incredible score of 43-7, managing in the 20 minutes of the game to score seven tries as they tore Great Britain to pieces in the most enthralling exhibition of running, passing and power anyone could ever see.  It reminded me of the first Fijian sportsmen I ever saw, when in New Zealand we were visited by Fijian teams that could kick goals with bare feet, and hit sixes in cricket with the most cheerful abandon and incredible eyesight.  And when the game finished, they formed into a choir and delighted us with their haunting melodies and glorious voices.
Apart from anything else, I am simple enough to take pleasure in seeing young people come from every corner of the world to compete in these events; I remember the delight that Mutaz Essa Barsheim,  a young man from Qatar took in his second placing in the high jump that was won by the Canadian Derek Drouin. Among its other virtues, sports teaches us how to lose gracefully, as so many competitors have shown how to do his week.
There are far more delights I have taken, including a run just achieved by a delightful Kenyan half miler, Eunice Sum, but I really don’t have time to go into them all. (Wow! I just heard the announcer say, “I think it is Santiusti, Rodriguez and Chichota.”  That’s diversity, fellers!).
As they say in the sporting world, I can’t wait for the 1500 metres, the greatest event of them all.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, all you sports denigrators.