Mystery and Excellence on The Human Body - Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

Douglas Wakiihuri, world marathon champion and silver medallist

Modem Olympic Games

One and one half thousand years ago, the flame of the ancient Olympic Games was extinguished at Olympia in Greece by the Roman Emperor Theodosius. When the idea of reestablishing the Olympic Games was first brought up, it was greeted with sarcasm: "Not far removed from the ridiculous, " people said. The man who had the conviction and the courage to initiate this idea, as well as the tenacity to finally realize the first Olympic Games, was Baron de Coubertin. The wars had swept through Europe at the end of the last century and he realized that the Olympic Games, crossing all boundaries of nationality, race, religion, language and colour could reawaken the sense of human unity. On the tomb stone of his grave in Olympia is engraved a message which well expresses his idea.

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games


Pierre de Coubertin will fight during more than thirty years to  securely reestablish the Olympic Games. He was only 29 years when in  1892 he made his first public appeal for the resurrection of the  Olympic Games during a meeting of the Union des Sports Athletiques.  In 1894, the International Congress of Paris for the Reestablishment  of the Olympic Games was held. The Sorbonne, one of the high centres  of the French intellectual world, allowed de Coubertin to use its  amphitheatre. Two thousand people attended the Congress, including  79 delegates and 49 sports associations from 12 countries. A hymn to  Apollo, recently discovered at Delphi, was sung at the inauguration.  Afterwards, Pierre de Coubertin stood by and unfolded his great dream  before the Congress. He told them that "a man is not only formed of  two parts, body and soul; there are three — body, mind and character.  And character is not formed by mind, but primarily by the body. The  men of antiquity knew this, and we are painfully relearning it. "

Despite the unanimous motion in favour of the revival of the  Olympic Games, de Coubertin himself had no illusion. He would later  recall in his memoirs that out of the whole Congress only two members  truly believed in the Olympics. But his powers of persuasion were so  great that the other participants felt compelled to agree. This latent  scepticism is probably one of the reasons which, a few years later,  made de Coubertin himself wonder if the attempt was not doomed to  failure. Any great endeavour in the world, which aims at something  quite beyond the ordinary ways of men, is likely to meet with fierce  resistance: this was no exception.

In fact, there were so many critics that de Coubertin decided to press  for an early date to hold the first Games. Initially the date chosen was  1900, with Paris as the venue; but, feeling that six years were giving too  much time to those who wanted to kill the idea, he travelled himself to  Greece with an alternative date in mind: 1896. If the Olympic Games  were to be revived, why not resume them at Olympia itself? Finally  Athens was chosen preferably to Olympia, as the ancient site, deprived  of any modem facilities, was also difficult of access.

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

In November 1894, Athens having been tentatively agreed upon  as the venue, Pierre de Coubertin set up an International Olympic  Committee (IOC) of 14 members chosen from the 12 nations which  had participated in the Congress. The role of this Committee was to  define policies and promote the ideals that had led to the revival of the  Olympic Games. The IOC gave itself four aims:

1) Promotion of those physical and moral qualities which are at the  basis of sport.

2) Promotion of international understanding by educating young  people through sport.

3) Spreading of the Olympic ideals throughout the world.

4) Bringing together of the athletes of the world in a great four yearly festival of sports.

The manner in which Pierre de Coubertin saw the role of the members of this new Committee is revealing of his realism, his methods and  his aspirations. In his memoirs he described the IOC as a "self-recruit ed body... composed of three concentric circles: a small core of earnest  and hard-working members; a nursery of willing members ready to be  taught; finally a front of more or less useful people whose presence satisfied national pretensions at the same time as it gave prestige to the  Committee as a whole." Members were to be "trustees" of the Olympic  ideals. They were chosen on the basis of their knowledge of sport as  well as for their national standing. According to de Coubertin, their  role was to be ambassadors of the International Olympic Committee in  their own countries and not the opposite, a "delegation in reverse", in  his own words. Naturally, as could be expected, not everyone in the  IOC would come up to such standards; nevertheless a certain tone was  set in accordance with the Olympic ideals rather than with nationalistic preoccupations.

The first Olympic Games began on April 5th 1896 in Athens. There  were 42 events in 30 sport disciplines with a total of 311 participants  (men only) from 13 nations. No team competition took place. Most  events were those which were part of the ancient Olympic Games, like  running, discus, long jump, high jump, wrestling, etc. The Marathon  was won by a Greek peasant called Spiridon Louis who became a hero  for the Greeks. Overall, these first Games were a success, so much so

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games


Athens 1896

that the Greeks began to claim exclusive rights to hold future Games.  Pierre de Coubertin, diplomatically but firmly, maintained that the next  Games would be held in Paris in 1900, as previously scheduled. Later  the Greeks would realize that the cost of organizing such Games every  four years was beyond their means.

The Olympic Games in Paris turned out to be an embarrassing failure. Reduced to a mere appendage to the 1900 World Exhibition, the  events of the Olympics were spread over 5 months with poor organization and poor attendance. One event only, a football match between the  two arch-enemies that were then the French and the Germans, turned  out to be surprisingly comforting, with the French spectators applauding both teams: this was indeed an illustration of what de Coubertin  stood for. Similarly, the 1904 Games, held in the USA, were a disaster,  with most European nations skipping the event and the organizers  proving to be even more incompetent than those in Paris. It was also  the first time that the risks of commercialism appeared: to solve the  financial difficulties, the Games were linked to the St Louis World Fair  and de Coubertin himself admitted that it was a commercialization of  the Olympic spirit but said he had no other choice. He was so troubled  by this that he did not even attend the St Louis Games.

After such failures, the Olympic movement was in disarray and,  curiously enough, it was the success of the Intercalated (or Interim)  Games, held by the Greeks in 1906 against the wish of de Coubertin  and the IOC, which contributed to keep the idea alive. The 1908

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

Games held in London were well organized but marred by many disputes. At last, the I9J2 Games, organized in Stockholm, proved to be  for Pierre de Coubertin, in his own words, "an enchantment". He  added that for the first time the world saw "a great international festival of sporting friendship and goodwill. "

After the interruption of the Great War (1914-1918), the Olympic  Games were held in Antwerp in 1920, again thanks to the indomitable  spirit of Pierre de Coubertin: he had been extremely upset by the failure to hold the 1916 Olympics, as he saw it as a failure of the Olympics  ideals; nevertheless, instead of being discouraged, he was all the more  resolved to resume his action. Antwerp was chosen because it had been  ravaged during the war: out of its ashes, felt de Coubertin, a new spirit  of unity could arise. In a speech given immediately after the Games,  the Baron declared, "This is what the Seventh Olympiad has brought us: general comprehension; the certainty of being henceforward under stood by all.... These festivals... are, above all, the festivals of human  unity. In an incomparable synthesis, the effort of the muscles and of  mind, mutual help and competition, lofty patriotism and intelligent cosmopolitanism, the personal interest in the champion and the abnegation of the team-member, are bound in a sheaf for a common task. "

Today, these ideas may not seem to us revolutionary in the least. But  let us remember that in de Coubertin's time, words like "cosmopolitanism" or even "human unity" were suspicious to most citizens of  European countries. Men who uttered them were often considered as  traitors to their own motherland. It was a time of aggressive national ism, and anybody presenting an ideal transcending the narrow limits of  nationalistic pride was immediately seen as somebody plotting to '  destroy the nation. De Coubertin was fiercely attacked, and firstly by  those who should have helped him the most, his compatriots; during  the First World War, he had even been accused of being a coward for  choosing Switzerland, a neutral country, for the headquarters of the  10C. It is in this context that we should appreciate the courage of  Pierre de Coubertin, a true pioneer, whose vision was greatly ahead of  his times and who relentlessly fought to materialize it. One really  admires the determination of the man who, almost single-handedly,  succeeded in establishing a great organization in which nobody  believed at first.

The 1924 Games will be the last under the presidentship of de

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

Coubertin. He had wanted them to be held in Paris so as to erase the  sad memories of the 1900 Games. He also wished to have the Games in  his own country at the end of his Presidentship. This time, it was a success. 44 nations were represented (against 29 in 1920) with 3092 competitors, including 136 women. Six world records were set and fifteen  existing records were equalled or broken. At last it was clear that the  Olympic Games would continue, even without their founder. In fact, the  Paris Games were the last Games which he attended. In a farewell  message to the athletes and all those taking part in the Games of the  ninth Olympiad at Amsterdam, he exhorted everyone to "strongly and  faithfully keep ever alive the flame of the revived Olympic spirit and  maintain its necessary principles... The great point is that, everywhere  everyone from adolescent to adult, should cultivate and spread the true  sporting spirit of spontaneous loyalty and chivalrous impartiality."

The Games did continue, except for an interruption due to World  War II: the Games which were to be held in Tokyo in 1940 and London  in 1944 were cancelled. The last Games before the war had been held  in Berlin in 1936. They are best remembered by Hitler's failed attempt  to use them to prove his theories of racial superiority, but they are also  noteworthy as they were the first to be shown on television. It was only  after 12 years that the Olympic Games were resumed in London in  1948. In the following Games the number of competitors steadily  increased to reach a total of 7078 participants and 141 nations in the  1984 Games at Los Angeles. The largest number ever of competitors  and nations was reached in Sydney (2000) with 199 countries participating in the Games.

This obvious success, genuine in many ways, belongs to the bright  side of a mixed reality. The Cold War period created an intense rivalry  between the two big blocks and there has been many instances of reciprocal boycotts where the spirit of sportsmanship was totally forgotten.  In some countries, particularly in the East, participation in the Games  was a state affair and success a must. As a result, the pressures on the  athletes and their coaches were often beyond reasonable limits. There  has been also a great increase of commercialism during these years as  the organizers of the Games wanted to make sure not to be faced with  huge deficits as had happened in Montreal in 1976. Now the Olympic  Games are even supposed to be profitable, which increases dangerously the already crushing power of money.

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

There is no doubt today that the Olympic Games are the major  planetary sport event, well ahead of any of the other world competitions. Billions of people worldwide were able to watch at the same time  on their television screens the opening and closing ceremonies of the  Sydney Games, as well as many important events. In the remotest corners of India, men and women who are still living a very traditional  life, were able to glance at an entirely different aspect of the world than  the one they are familiar with. Such happenings do reinforce powerfully the sense of being citizens of one common world, where the limitations of nationalism and borders, despite so much fierce resistance, are  bound to fade away. This, at least, is undoubtedly one of the great contributions of the Olympic Games to human progress.

To succeed in the Olympic Games, the athletes have to develop those  qualities which are necessary for both physical and moral endeavour: health, strength, agility, fitness, discipline and a sound and strong character, good humour, tolerance, fair-play, obedience and humility. These  qualities have their value in a team sport as well as in the life of the  individual. Any team which possesses them has more chances to do well  and also will encourage the same qualities in other teams.

Evolution on earth is governed by two forces, one of unity and the  other of division. These two forces are in a race, and the spirit of the ; modern Olympic Games is strengthening the forces of unity. Baron de  Coubertin envisaged people living together and participating in the  Games not only as members of their national teams, but as citizens of  the whole world.

Is the Olympic spirit still alive ? It is not for us to judge, rather we  prefer to hope and believe that, despite many shortcomings and abuses,  the Games are a manifestation of a deep, maybe unconscious aspiration of mankind towards a better, nobler human life, where differences  would be seen as an expression of a rich diversity which does not pre vent but, on the contrary, sustains human unity.

That was certainly Pierre de Coubertin's intuition. When in 1913 he  found an emblem at Delphi consisting of five linked rings, he chose it  as the symbol of the Olympics and explained, "These five rings represent the five parts of the world won over to Olympism and ready to  accept its bountiful rivalries. The six colours combined in this way rep resent those of every nation without exception." Still one wonders why  one of the rings of the Olympic flag is black. Colours have a meaning

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

and, even if black has its own austere beauty, its meaning is negative. Moreover, the rings are so arranged that the black one is at the centre, which reinforces the negative effect. The one ring colour that is missing is white, which contains all the other colours. Let us hope that one day the black ring can be changed into white. For the time being, the presence of the black ring may be just symbolic of the sad reality of today's world situation.

The true substance of the Olympic Games is made of the intense interactions between athletes coming from all over the world. The challenge they have to face is tremendous; they have been training for years, dreaming of this moment, they have been rehearsing endlessly, waiting weeks or months for a race or match which may last only for a few minutes. And now they have to gather their whole being, body and mind, for the ultimate effort. In this endeavour, the power of their concentration, their ability to bear the considerable pressure of top-level competition, are probably what makes the difference between victory and defeat. In a book called The Olympians written by Sebastian Coe, himself several times an Olympic gold medallist in running competitions, a description is given of the different psychological situations faced by field athletes. We feel it gives an insight into the inner world of these top competitors.

Before his 100 meters victory at Paris, Harold Abrahams was told by his coach Sam Mussabini: "Only think of two things, the pistol and the tape. When you hear the one, run like hell until you break the other." The long jumper, as he waits his turn, has rather more intricate things to think about than that, but both men will move to their marks with the single-minded concentration of a specialist about to perform the job he has come to do.

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

From that moment their paths diverge. The runner and the jumper  become different beings, and for the runner things are rather easier. He  comes under the direction of a starter, who dictates his every move  until the pistol is fired. Then he is in a race. He may be "running like  hell till he breaks the tape", but he is aware of his opponents; he can  regulate his conduct to their performance, he can lengthen or shorten  his stride and he can dive for the finish if he needs to. He is competing.

No field events specialist has that privilege. He is, from the time his  name is called, as alone as he can possibly be. Everything is in his own  hands. It is his decision when he begins his run-up, how fast he begins  it, where he plants his feet, whether he pulls up half-way and begins  again. He is jumping, essentially, against himself.

Conversely, the actual movements that he makes must adhere rigidly  to the pattern he has rehearsed over and over again, session after session, year after year. The sprinter can let the breeze or the challenge  from lane five or the roar of the crowd spur him to a quicker pick-up or  a longer, more powerful stride. The long-jumper most decidedly must  not: once the meticulous rhythm of a thousand practice jumps is allowed  to stray, something is bound to go wrong — he will take off short of the  board and lose valuable inches, or chop his stride to compensate and  lose height and length, or over-stretch and record a no-jump.

Running is natural, whatever techniques are built into it by athlete  and coach. A runner's body and mind can adjust to any given situation  by speeding up, slowing down, coasting, spurting, minutely changing  the angle of the feet to cut off an angle of a bend or avoid the heels of a  rival. All field events, bound in by regulations to make each as uniform  a test as possible, turn such natural acts as jumping and throwing into  unnatural ones which have to be learned, and once learned not for an

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

instant in any detail forgotten. Which is why Olympic field competitions are primarily tests of nerve, and why no record holder or pre-con test favourite is ever home and dry until he can prove on the day that  he can overcome the tension and behave under pressure just as he  behaves on the practice field at home.

On that extraordinary May afternoon in 1935 at Ann Arbor, Michigan,  when Jesse Owens broke or equalled six world records within an hour,  there was one moment when the pressure might have been expected to  get to him. As he stood waiting to start his series at the long jump pit,  the man with the microphone focussed all eyes on him by announcing: "Jesse Owens will now attempt a new long jump world's record." It  takes the nerves of a champion to perform to that build-up, but Owens  had to jump only once that afternoon — he leapt 8.13 meters, the first  time anyone had ever gone beyond 8 meters, to set a world record that  stood for twenty-five years.

Pressure applied when an athlete is "fired up" is one thing. Pressure  when things are going badly is quite another. At Helsinki in 1952  Yvette Williams was an accomplished long jumper strongly fancied as  she left home to take the first ever Olympic medal by a New Zealand  woman athlete. She had qualified for the final quite easily that morning, but in doing so she had wrenched a knee ligament on her practice  run-up; she wasn't exactly worried about it, but she knew it was there.

Her first effort in the afternoon's final was a no-jump. Her second  was a superb leap, high and strong, propelled by the perfect hitch-kick  she had honed on the sand dunes of Dunedin over four long years of  training. Her jump sailed past the world record mark... and received the  red flag. It was another no-jump.

With a dodgy knee and nothing on the board to show for two jumps,  she had just one more attempt, not merely to record a distance but to  Join the best six; otherwise she would be out of the competition in the  most humiliating way possible. Facing the end of the runway, beyond  the pit, was a huge contingent of British, Australian and New Zealand  tans, hardly daring to watch. At home the radio station was playing  music all night, interspersed .with meagre and, to date, thoroughly discouraging news flashes about Yvette's progress in Helsinki. In Dunedin  a special edition of the morning paper, with news of a New Zealand triumph, was waiting on the presses just in case New Zealand's prayers  Gould be answered.

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

And they were. With deliberation she moved back her check marks  to make sure she took off before the tell-tale plasticene strip at the front  of the board. Her jump was not a world-beater, but it took her into the  top six, and to a further three jumps. With the first of these, her knee  warning her at every step that she was not going to have its support  much longer, she hit the board fair and square. She soared to within  a quarter of an inch of Fanny Blankers-Koen's long-standing world  record, took an unassailable lead, and won her gold medal. Nerve,  poise and discipline had survived the pressure. The aggression and the  pent-up power had been released only at that one instant in which a  long jumper can afford to let rip — as her foot hit the board in perfect  rhythm — and the instinct born of long practice converted it all into an  unbeatable jump.

We find in the annals of the Olympics many instances of extraordinary courage and will-power displayed by athletes. Taken from a chapter called "Will of Steel" in the book The Olympics,here are a few  such remarkable examples which do more for demonstrating the ultimate value of the modern Olympics than any argument that one may  think of.

Olympic history is replete with stories of handicapped men and  women who became champions, men and women who saw themselves  not as what they were but as what they could become. They are the  soul and the spirit of the Olympic movement, and it is this spirit which  every four years rivets the world's attention on to one unique arena. As  the official Olympic message says: "The Olympic Games tend to bring  mankind together in union and harmony with the qualities that guide  mankind to perfection."

The search for that perfection is hardest for those who have become  victims of disease or accident.... Two Americans athletes, decathlete  Rafer Johnson and shot putter Bill Neider, overcame serious injuries to  win their respective events at Rome.

Twelve years before the Rome Olympics, during the same week in  which Bob Mathias won the Olympic decathlon in London, Johnson  was praying in a Kingsburg hospital that his left leg would not have to  be amputated. This teenager's leg had been trapped in a peach convey or belt in Kingsburg, 25 miles north of Tulare, California, and badly

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

crushed. The front of his toe hung precariously by the tissues. Twenty three stitches were needed to put back the spilling muscles and tissues.

The doctors saved the 12-year-old's leg but it never healed fully.  Throughout his athletic career Johnson had difficulty wearing spikes; his discomfort was always clearly visible. But that was the smallest  hurdle in a long effort which culminated in that dramatic decathlon victory; he was the greatest all-round athlete of the world. He had tabulated 8,392 points for an Olympic record.

William 'Bill' Neider was a big, powerful man who played football  for Kansas University. One afternoon a bone-crushing blow across his  right knee left him severely injured. Operation after operation proved  unsuccessful in restoring flexibility to his damaged knee. That was the  end of football — and for anyone else, it would also have meant the  end of any career in sports. Then Neider saw some athletes shot putting  and decided to give it a try. He became so engrossed with his new found passion that he didn't even realize that his knee was gradually  bending. In Rome it was Neider who got the gold and the great Parry  O'Berin who received the silver. Neider, who won the title in an  Olympic record of 19.68m, also held the world record. Here was the  case of a man who used a leg that doctors had labelled useless to win  the Olympic gold medal.

Karloy Takacs looked down the barrel of his pistol and scored bull's  eye after bull's eye to win the rapid fire pistol event of the 1948  Olympics in a world record of 580 points. The crowds were awestruck  by his accuracy but a closer look would have surprised them even further. Takacs did not have a right hand.

He was one of the finest shooters in Europe from 1929 to 1938.  During a patrol in 1938 a hand grenade had exploded in his right hand  and ripped it off. He was lucky not to lose his life. One year later he  left hospital without his shooting hand, but with his love for shooting  still intact. He taught himself to shoot with his left hand and regained  his place in the national side for the London Olympics at the age of 38.  Four years later he retained his title.

In Melbourne in 1956 there was a girl who once could barely move  a muscle in her body after a severe bout of polio; but there she was,  standing on top of the Olympic rostrum receiving her gold medal with  tears running down her cheeks. Anyone present could have dismissed  her tears as understandable emotion. But those were not ordinary tears.

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

They were tears of disbelief. Shelley Mann, tall and beautiful, could  never have dreamt of such a day after polio struck her at the age of  five. Doctors asked her to get into the swimming pool as an exercise,  simply to restore some strength to her emaciated limbs; instead Mann  became a world champion.

She recollected, after her Olympic victory, how she had cried in  ecstasy the day she had managed to lift an arm out of the water. Soon,  lifting her arm out of the water became an everyday achievement. Next  she swam ten meters, then the breadth of the pool, then the length.  Finally, the lengths began to multiply. Persistently, through months of  labour, she worked life into her dead limbs. She became the greatest  American swimmer of her time, setting eight national records and winning an Olympic medal. She won the 100 m butterfly in an Olympic  record of 1 min 11.0 sec.

And finally here is the story of a loser, a beautiful story about man's  dignity and courage in the face of defeat. As there are many more losers than winners in the Olympic Games, we feel to offer that story as a  tribute to all those who have never won, but were nevertheless at that  level of excellence that it takes to participate in the Olympic Games.

Dave and Linda Morecroft live with their family in Coventry, north  of London. Dave Morecroft was born here, and today he supervises  sports programmes for the children of Coventry. Dave Morecroft is  esteemed in Great Britain. He is admired for his devotion to children,  and for one magnificent day in July of 1982. On this day in Oslo, Dave  Morecroft won the 5000 meters in world record time, running the distance nearly six seconds faster than anyone else had before. 28 years  earlier, Roger Bannister became the first man to run the mile in under  four minutes. Now Dave Morecroft had the chance to become the first  man in history to run the 5000 meters in under 13 minutes. He missed  by less than half a second, but incredibly beat the world record by more  than 5 seconds. Although the Los Angeles Olympics were two years  away, his performance was so impressive that he immediately became  one of the favourites to win the 5000 meters Olympic gold medal.

It is Thursday, August 9, 1984, in the Los Angeles Coliseum. In the  two years since his incredible world record run in Oslo, Morecroft had  been beset with crippling injuries. He had not fully recovered from a

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

stress fracture of leg, a debilitating attack of hepatitis, and a pelvic disorder that on certain days made it impossible for him to run.

Morecroft had advanced to the semi-finals, after a comparatively  easy race the day before in the qualifying round. The runners must circle the 400 meters track twelve and a half times. In this semi-final  that day, Morecroft faced a difficult challenge. John Walker of New  Zealand, the 1976 Olympic champion of the 1500 hundred meters, had  moved up to the 5000 meters. And 23 year old Saheed Oweda of  Morocco had won the second fastest 5000 meters in history, only 4 seconds slower than Morecroft's world-record time. Oweda had a superb  competitive record. A few weeks before the games he announced he  would run the 1500 meters, an event in which he had run the fastest  time of the year. Shortly before the opening day, he withdrew from the  1500 meters, but remained in the 5000 meters race.

With 200 meters left in his semi-final, Morecroft has survived the  test: he was running without pain. Oweda led Morecroft running on the  inside, and John Walker on the outside. But this finish had little meaning — the first six men in the semi-final qualify for the final. "I felt comfortable in the semi-final. But it's difficult to tell at this stage, because  you always try to conserve energy, trying to run as easily as you can,  and I was aware that Oweda and Walker and others were running reasonably quickly, but I felt comfortable at the pace."

Two days later, over 90,000 spectators awaited the outcome of the  5000 meters. Two of the spectators were Linda and Paul Morecroft,  Dave Morecroft's wife and son. Linda : "I had spoken to Dave on the  morning of the race, and he said he felt fine. The injury was paining  some, but no more than usual. It wasn't until I saw him warming up  that I realized that something was amiss. He seemed to be dragging his  leg a little, which meant that his pelvis had tilted again." Dave: "And  that's when I started thinking I really shouldn't be running, but I guess  you're sort of hoping for a miracle. I was trying to forget the fact that  the warm-up hadn't gone so well. I hoped that within a couple of laps  of the final I might be running reasonably freely.

The race began. There were 14 finalists. Saheed Oweda of Morocco  fell comfortably into third place to assure a fast pace. But for Dave Morecroft, there was anguish. He was in intense pain just a few seconds  into the race. Dave later said: "I was absolutely certain that there was no way I could keep up with the pace. In such a situation, there are many

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

different emotions: there is an element of panic, there is disappointment,  there is being scared that you won't finish. Basically all you're trying to  do is put one foot in front of the other — that's all you can do..."

After two laps, Dave was in last place. Linda Morecroft recalls: "I  still hoped he could get into the race. I still hoped he could salvage  something. But by the fourth lap his injury was hurting him so much  that he couldn't salvage anything. The pace was so fast that he just  couldn't get into the race." With seven laps to go, and his chances  of victory gone, Dave Morecroft had thoughts about his wife Linda  watching from the stands. "It was a very difficult situation for her  because she could do nothing about it. I knew that she had watched me  do training sessions where things had gone badly, and she knew what I  was going through. I had never once dropped out of a race yet, because  I knew that once you do, you have given yourself an option for the  future. But I must admit I would have been quite happy if somebody  had dragged me off the track!"

Coming down the track with two laps to go, six men were still in  contention. Latao from Portugal led, followed by Saheed Oweda of  Morocco... All eyes were on the leaders. But for Dave and Linda  Morecroft, there was another race, a personal one. More than 350  meters behind the leaders, he was in danger of being lapped. Linda  Morecroft remembers: "I felt like bursting into tears. In fact, I was  secretly hoping that he would pull out, because I just didn't want to  have to watch him go further and further back. I was afraid he would  be lapped, and kept praying: Please, don't let him be lapped!" With one  lap to go, Latao of Portugal led, with Saheed Oweda of Morocco at his  shoulders... With just 250 meters left, Saheed Oweda made his move  and passed Latao of Portugal. Into the final turn, Oweda led.

Thirty meters in front of him, Dave Morecroft feared he will be  lapped: "I didn't want to look behind like a frightened rabbit. But I  pulled into the second lane because I thought that if they're going to  pass me, I don't want to get in their way." But Dave Morecroft crossed  the finish before the others. He gained his personal triumph and Saheed  Oweda won the gold medal. Now that it was over, there was the recognition of what had been done. Saheed Oweda became the first man to  win a gold medal for Morocco. And Dave Morecroft had completed his  long, painful journey with honour. Saheed Oweda stood on the highest  step of the victory platform. The victory scoreboard recorded the first

Modern Olympic Games

Modern Olympic Games

eight. In the upper right comer, there was still the world record time of  Dave Morecroft, a final honour and tribute to the magnificent day two  years earlier when he had run the fastest 5000 meters ever.

At the end of this brief presentation of the modern Olympic Games,  one may be left with a question: have they truly manifested something  of the ideals that were enunciated by Pierre de Coubertin. It probably  can only get a mixed answer. At times, sport idealism seems very  remote from the mixture of commercialism and greed that can be felt  around the more recent Olympic Games. They have become in effect  big business, both for the city which is hosting the games and for the  large companies which are sponsoring athletes. National politics are  also quite often involved. Despite these limitations, there is still a  magic of the Olympic Games. They help to focus the energies of athletes, they provide inspiration and emulation. Even in the most expensive and extravagant Olympic events are unaccountable moments of  greatness in victory or defeat. Human oneness is experienced, not by  the mind, but by the hearts of the athletes and the audience. Brought  home through instant world-wide visual communication, the Olympic  Games are a powerful symbol of a divided world aspiring to grow  through the experience that all human beings are, really, members of  one body. 

Modern Olympic Games

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