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Comment: If …

By Græme Gordon, executive director, Praxity

I don’t know how many of you watched the recent Athletics World Championships from London, but as a sports fan I was glued to it.

Frankly, I was inspired by the individuals taking part.

The interviews with several athletes who only just made it into semi-finals or finals – some achieving personal bests – was entrancing. They knew they had done the best they could and were happy, even though they had little chance of winning at the next stage.

Equally, several runners who missed out on medals by coming fourth, arguably the worst place to be in a World Championship or Olympics, were smiling to suggest they were content to have done their best.

Three individuals in particular really stood out, and I’d like to focus on them. They are, perhaps unsurprisingly, Usain Bolt, but also long jump gold medallist Luvo Manyonga of South Africa, and Sophie Hitchon, less well-known outside of Britain and placed seventh in the women’s hammer.

I think almost everyone outside of America was rooting for Usain Bolt to go out on the ultimate high note, by winning gold in his last international 100 metres. But, as we now know, it was not to be. I believe many others felt like I did, that the way he comported himself once the result was known, simply added to his reputation. This long-established icon not only continued to smile, playing to the thousands gathered to see him in the stadium and the millions watching on television, but also took time not only to congratulate the winner Justin Gatlin, but also embrace him and call him a ’good person’.

I’m certain that most of the international crowd did not agree with Bolt’s assessment, and booed and jeered the twice-banned drugs cheat Gatlin, not least in frustration because they had cheered at the numerous previous ceremonies in which the IAAF had presented medals to others who had lost places to other drugs cheats.

Bolt showed everyone what true humility and compassion looks like.

Next, there is Luvo Manyonga, whose backstory is also very inspiring.  As was the way he celebrated winning gold. Manyongo hails from one of the slums of the Cape and was until a few years ago, like many young people in Mbekweni township, a crystal meth addict. He cleaned himself up, won a silver medal in the Rio Olympics and sailed out to be crowned World Champion here in the long jump.

He not only danced on the rostrum when receiving his medal, but also then ran to make ‘snow’ angels in the long jump sand pit in sheer joy. He’s keen to tell his story to help addicts see that anyone can kick the habit and become whole again, and hopes he can enhance his role model status by becoming the greatest ever long jumper: ‘I was born in 1991 – the same year the [present] world record was set [Mike Powell 8.95m]. So, I think it is a calling for me’.

Finally, I would refer to young Briton Sophie Hitchon, who stunned herself by winning hammer bronze at the Rio Olympics with a last throw which was not only a personal best but also set a new GB and Commonwealth record. At this Championship, her final throw was again her longest, but this time that was not enough. Afterwards, she hid behind an advertising hording and cried. ‘I will beat myself up for a while after this’, she admitted, but not because she failed to get another medal for herself, but because she was sure she could have done better ‘for her team’. Her spirit of responsibility for the team and the anguish at letting them down was, for me at least, heart-wrenching.

So, what do I take from all this? I guess Rudyard Kipling can best sum it up for me:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it …

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