Thursday, August 3, 2017

On the Cusp of Magic

by Mark Cullen

A still stadium morphs into a beehive of activity in anxious anticipation of the first night’s greatest event.

Not Mo Farah’s 10,000m swansong, but Usain Bolt’s opening round of the 100m dash. What better way to begin the 2017 London World Championships than with the unfolding of the four chapters of the men’s 100m story?

The four-round format is not a test of athletes’ pure speed; rather, it is a test of sprint endurance, a test of sprinters’ ability to withstand four withering rounds in just 26 hours and 45 minutes. The fortunate – and fastest – among them are seeded into the second round and run ‘only’ three races in just over 24 hours.

Should Bolt win his final individual event at Worlds, the explosion of appreciation in London Olympic Stadium might match that of the night before should Mo Farah complete his World 10k career undefeated. Remember that the Portland, OR, US resident is British. For the most part, so is this crowd.

Much has been made of 2012’s Olympic Super Saturday when, in the space of 45 minutes, Jessica Ennis-Hill (heptathlon), Greg Rutherford (long jump), and Mo Farah (10,000m) won gold for the host nation.

If hope is in part effort, then much has gone into the wish for a repeat of that dusting of Olympic magic. But that can lead only to disappointment; 2012 was, like Cathy Freeman’s 400m win at home in Sydney in 2000, a moment unique to its own place and time.

We should, instead, look forward to our own magic.

Six times in the women’s hammer final I’ll hold my breath as Anita Wlodarczyk spins. She just became the first woman ever to throw over 80m 5 times in a 6 round series. Will she go 6/6? Will the 2016 Athlete of the Year break the world record again?

We won’t exhale during the short hurdles, which are never over until they’re over, as Gail Devers and Lolo Jones know all too well. Will the US repeat the Olympic sweep?

What happens when Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs duke it out in the shot put ring? A heavyweight championship in 6 rounds. Or Thomas Rohler and Johannes Vetter, German teammates in the javelin? Same.

Will this be the moment when Christian Taylor sets the triple jump world record at long last? In front of current record-holder Jonathan Edwards. Of England. On his turf. Noted Taylor at today’s press conference about the Thursday, 8/10, final, “It’s his son’s birthday. I’d love to give him this gift!”

We’ll marvel at the best moment our sport has to offer. It occurs when sprinters take their blocks and the crowd goes silent. 66,000 in the stadium and you’ll be able to hear a pin drop. That’s the respectful ethic of our sport. In spite of the deep-seated problems our sport faces, most especially the credibility gap created by drugs, that moment of gracious silence before the gun goes off gives me hope - and chills - every time.

So, no need to look back and impose an artificial standard on these Championships. They will have their own script, their own unexpected storylines, their own thunderclap moments. London hosted the Olympic Games in the same stadium 5 years ago. But this time, it’s just us track nuts, another gathering of the tribe.

Our long track and field vigil is over: the World Championships return on Friday.

We’re on the cusp of magic again.

Allyson Felix, Jenny Simpson, Tianna Bartoletta, Christian Coleman, Christian Taylor, Ryan Crouser
at the United States team press conference
London, August 3, 2017

correction: many thanks to Thomas Byrne of SpikesMag for clarifying the term of England's memorable 3-gold medal Olympic night: it's widely recognized as Super Saturday, not England Night.

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