As the London Olympics come to an end it has been both exciting viewing but also sad for a fan of New Zealand athletes.
On the face of it, it would seem our best chances for medals come in sports where the participants need to be sitting down. Whether this means we are a nation of couch potatoes is an argument better had on a health blog. But maybe the reason our two bright hopes for track and field succumbed was because they are competing on the highest profile of stages.
The medals Valerie Adams and Nick Willis covet are also lusted for by countries, sponsors and millions of fans far more than gold in rowing or equestrian. A gold medallist in a track event can demand hundreds of thousands of dollars in sponsorship deals from shoe and clothing sponsors that a rowing could only ever dream of.
This takes nothing away from the achievements of Mahe Drysdale. But because the stakes are higher, Adams' and Willis' opponents are also willing to risk more to win. It what strikes me as quite incredible how in both events, the winners produced once-in-a-lifetime performances, despite facing gruelling qualification events in the case of the 1500m and the white hot atmosphere that comes with being at the Olympics.
The facts (according to a running writer I follow) are that Taoufik Makhloufi, 24, has never made a final in a major championship but this year has improved his 1500m personal best time by 2 seconds and his 800m PB by a whooping 3 seconds. In the final on Wednesday morning, he ran the final 400m of the race at the same pace you would run to break the world record in the 800m, and he managed to burn off not only our Willis, but also the four favorites from Kenya and Ethiopia. Given that none of the top picks finished in the top five makes you realise it wasn't only Willis who was left scratching his head at the end.
In Adams' case, her main rival has never thrown over 21 metres in an event outside of Belarus, let alone at a major championship. But on this occasion she threw the put four times well-over the magic 21 metre mark.
What this all tells us, is that to win a gold medal at a track and field event at the Olympics you must not only produce your best, but you must produce a freakish kind of performance that exceeds logical comprehension. How you do that may be beyond our athletes and their limited budgets, but in my opinion Adams' and Willis' crimes are not that they couldn't PB in a final, it's that they aspired for greatness on a stage which is hardly level.
- © Fairfax NZ News