It is the most enduring world record in the history of sport. It will never be broken and will be taken to the grave by the select few athletes who were fortunate to have achieved the momentous feat.
The world record was set on a sultry evening at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, India, just moments after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
Yes, the world record was set after the completion of the officially sanctioned events and was thus shrouded in secrecy…until now.
Beyond the gaze of the crowd and the glare of the TV cameras, and far removed from the world’s media, a special world record performance took place which will remain in the hearts and minds of the small band of heroes who were privileged to have taken part.
The hand-picked athletes snuck out onto the Athletics track before its closure. They heard hastily prepared instructions before assembling into their teams at the top of the 100m track.
No starting blocks. No starters gun. No spikes to be seen and no official race numbers. The covert nature of the record attempt necessitated such measures.
They were off, 4 finely-tuned athletes leapt from the starting line and strained every sinew to propel themselves at break neck speed down the track. After 25 metres they passed a biro to their team mate and yelled furiously into their ear to Run, Run, Run…and this they did.
One team established a small lead and left the third and fourth place teams in their wake, but a flying second leg charge from team two drew them level by the time the biros were passed into the hands of the third runners at the 50 metre mark.
The team in third then sailed into second with a silky smooth baton change and the third leg runner of the team which had changed in first place appeared to stumble. Was it a fall a hamstring, a calf strain? It appeared to be a simple cramp, and their hopes were dashed.
The remaining three teams continued to battle for supremacy in what was now a tightly-contested race worthy of a world record and eternal glory. A neck and neck tussle had ensued before the final biro change just 25 metres from the finish line.
The small band of onlookers were now cheering themselves hoarse and their cries merged with the shouts from the teammates of the final leg runners. They inched closer and closer to the finish line. Despite the closeness of the race and the monumental efforts of every competitor, only one team could win and claim this auspicious and unbeatable world record.
Two teams now edged stride by stride to the line and barely a whisker separated the two champion athletes striving to etch their names into history forever more.
5 metres, 4, 3, 2, 1 and a final desparate lunge delivered one team to victory just a breath ahead of another team in second and a different team in third.
The victors rejoiced and celebrated in unison, sending their cheers into the night sky and up to the heavens. They had won. They had conquered. They were giants of the sport.
They were heroes.
There’s nothing worse than fourth place at a major championship, and so it was on this sultry night in Delhi.
The 4 x 25 metre relay had been run and won.
What is the world record?
Actually, I have no idea. No one had a stopwatch on the race and even if they had I doubt they could have recorded an accurate finishing time, let alone have it ratified by the IAAF. The event was such a crazy blur of activity that capturing a reliable finishing time was impossible.
The names of the record holders have been lost to history as well, such was the manic energy and sheer delerium which engulfed the participants.
The medal ceremony did take place, as did drug testing. Traces of caffeine were certainly found in the majority of competitors, and traces of alcohol would certainly have been found in the competitors if the testing had taken place a few hours later.
While the finishing time and the names of the athletes passed into the night sky, it is fair in this instance to say that sport was the winner.
First of all, Australians call it ‘Footy’. But footy can mean Australian Rules Football, Football/Soccer, Rugby League or Rugby Union.
Footy = Aussie Rules
Australian Rules Football – Aussie Rules – AFL
Australian Rules Football holds the most legitimate claim the to the title of Australian football. ‘Aussie Rules’ is unique to Australia.
Australian Rules Football is apparently a combination of Marngrook and Gaelic Football. Marngrook is a sport played by Indigenous Australians involving a ball, two teams and goal posts, and Gaelic football was brought to Australia by Irish migrants in the early days of the colony. The two were combined and adapted to create Australian Rules Football.
AFL is Australian Football League which is the national first-grade competition with teams in most states and territories, and the entire sport is often called ‘AFL’. The heartland of the game is Victoria, especially Melbourne, and most of the AFL teams still represent suburbs in Melbourne.
AFL is also the most popular spectator sport in South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania and is the number 1 sport in the Northern Territory, especially among Indigenous Australians. No matter how remote the Indigenous community, they know all about the AFL.
Aussie Rules does have devoted fans in New South Wales and Queensland, but it is definitely not the most popular code in these states.
Footy = Soccer
Soccer – Football
Aussie Rules may be Australia’s national sport, but the most popular participation sport in the country is soccer.
Australians have long called the sport Soccer, but the rest of the world calls it football, so Aussies recently started calling it Football until we realised that footy refers to three other codes in the land Down Under. So, what name do they use? It depends who you ask.
Soccer is played in every state and territory from junior to senior level, and is producing strong national teams. AFC Asian Cup victories went to the men’s Socceroos in 2015, and the women’s Matildas in 2010. Soccer will also enjoy a rise in popularity after Australia and New Zealand won the rights to co-host the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023.
The success of the national teams and the sport itself is due largely to the country’s migrant population. The British colonisers brought the sport to the country, but migrants built it. Club teams from the Italian, Greek and other European communities drove the early national league and The World Game is the most truly multi-cultural code in the country. The A-League and the W-League are the current national competitions for men and women and feature teams from throughout Australia.
Rugby is Australia’s national sport.
Many foreigners think rugby is Australian football, but this is not true. AFL and Soccer are more popular, and ‘rugby’ actually refers to two separate codes.
Footy = Rugby Union
Rugby Union – Rugby – Union
Rugby Union is footy for students at expensive private schools in New South Wales and Queensland. The Game They Play in Heaven was the domain of the wealthy from school, to club to representative level, and this kept it contained to a very select demographic.
Rugby Sevens has broadened its appeal and another factor has attracted a different demographic to the sport – Pacific Islanders. Every club, school or representative team now actively recruits players of Pacific Islander origin. They are built to play rugby. They are big, strong, fast, agile, skilful and very hard to tackle.
Club teams fill their rosters with Pasifika players and private schools offer scholarships to talented young Pasifika boys. Representative teams at Super Rugby and national level rely very heavily on players from Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand and almost half of the players in the men’s national team, the Wallabies, have pacific island heritage. Rugby Union also competes for Pasifika talent with Rugby League, as the players are just as dominant in this sport.
The arrival of many South African migrants in Western Australia has increased the appeal of the code in this state, especially in Perth.
A threat to the dominance of Rugby Union in Australian private schools is Aussie Rules. The sport pursues a very pro-active and effective junior development program and is now being played at private schools, and Aussie Rules posts have replaced rugby posts on many school ovals.
Another threat to the future of the sport is the risk of injury. Many Australian parents are concerned for the safety of their children after seeing the injuries suffered at junior and senior level among players in rugby (and league). Both of these sports have gone to great lengths to protect players, especially from head injuries, but injuries, some of which are very serious, are hard to avoid in such brutally physical sports.
The concern over serious injury has led many parents to sign their children up for soccer.
Footy = Rugby League
If you say footy in NSW and Queensland, most people will think of Rugby League. League is the most popular sport in these states. It was played only in these two states until recently. Ironically, though, the most dominant team in the National Rugby League competition in recent years, and the 2020 premiers, is the Storm – from Melbourne.
League is the working man’s game and this distinguishes it from Union, and explains its broad appeal.
So, what is Australian football? That’s a complex question. Geography and social class determine how most people answer, and even the time of year. League, Union and Aussie rules are all winter sports, but the A-League (Soccer) is played during summer. The ambiguity causes debate among some Australians, while most just enjoy the chance to watch so many sports at a high level in one country.
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov – It just rolls off the tongue so well. The road cyclist from Uzbekistan was also known as the Tashkent Terror due to his blistering sprint finishes and wild style. He won the green points jersey in the 1991 Tour de France, and a mountain stage in 1996. How many athletes have a British Rock band named after them?
Nathan Leeper – Nathan is naturally a high jumper. The leaper from the USA finished inside the top 10 at multiple major international events, including a fourth place at the World Indoor Championships in 2001.
Anthony Whiteman – The British runner competed in middle distance events. Every time he lined up in international competitions against a field of mostly African runners, his name was abbreviated to A. Whiteman. Anthony won gold at the 1997 Universiade and bronze at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in the 1500 metres.
Will Power – The name says it all. Australian race car driver who enjoyed success in the IndyCar series.
Zinzan Brooke – I just like the way it sounds. A lot of Kiwis like the way the former All Black played the game of Rugby Union.
Usain Bolt – A marketing dream. Lightning Bolt, world’s fastest human. A signature pose and a charismatic personality. The Jamaican is also a multiple world record holder and international medallist.
Ben Swift – Ben Swift is fast. Just as well. The cyclist won the scratch race at the 2012 Track Cycling World Championships and the British national championships on the road in 2019.
Conor Swift – Ben’s cousin Conor is also a professional cyclist, and is also rather rapid. He won the British road championships in 2018.
Endurance Ojokolo – An athlete with a contradictory name. Endurance competed for Nigeria in the shortest race on the track, the 100m. She was multiple African champion and Olympic finalist.
Cody Rodeo Tyler – Yes, it’s on his birth certificate. Yes, he rides Rodeo. The American bull rider is one of the best in the world and competes on the world Pro Bull Riding circuit. I guess his parents didn’t give him much choice.
Beast Mtawarira (Tendai) – Beast may not appear on Mtawarira’s birth certificate, but the nickname is so appropriate it is how he is known. Tendai was born in Zimbabwe but he is the most capped prop for South Africa’s Springboks, with whom he won the 2019 World Cup.
George Best – The best ever? Some people think so. The northern Irishman won many games and accolades for Manchester United and is regarded as one of the most talented footballers in history.
Bradman Best – What a name to live up to. The young Australian Rugby League player shares a first name with Australia’s most beloved sportpserson, Don Bradman, and his surname indicates he is better than anyone – No pressure
Bastian Schweinsteiger – a guy who sleeps in the pig sty. However, after winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Germany and the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich, as well as many other titles, I don’t think Bastian sleeps in a pig sty.
Winner Anacona -The Columbian road cyclist enters every race with a positive mindset, and has enjoyed success at international level, including a stage win at the 2014 Vuelta a Espana. ironically, his name is a mistake. It was meant to be Winnen, after cyclist Peter Winnen.
Fuifui MoiMoi – His name rolls off the tongue. He rolled over opposition players. Tongan born ‘Fui’ had a big body, big hair and a big personality which earned him cult status at the Parramatta Eels club in Australia. He also played for New Zealand and Tonga. His brother-in-law is NFL player Star Lotulelei, who also had a name to live up to.
Junior Paulo – Another bullocking prop from the Parramatta Eels, Paulo has represented his homeland of Samoa at international level and was selected in the NSW State of Origin team in 2020. Paulo’s name is significant because if he is Junior, how big is Senior Paulo?
The Kiwi Contingent – New Zealand rugby league players whose names challenge even the sharpest commentators:
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and
The Athlete Formerly Known As: Saif Saaeed Shaheen was formerly known as Stephen Cherono until he swapped allegiance from Kenya to Qatar and won multiple interntaional medals in the 3000m Steeplechase, for which he still holds the world record.
Loris Vergier – The world’s fastest loris. The French downhill mountain biker hurls himself down mountains at ridiculous speeds and won a world junior title in 2014, as well as the most recent UCI World Cup Downhill race.
Sam Hill – The Australian rides a mountain bike very quickly up and down…hills.
Annie Last – A remarkable name for the wrong reasons. Annie rarely finishes last. The experienced British mountain biker and Cyclo-Cross rider belongs to the elite level of women’s cycling and won gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games MTB Cross County.
Carl Ernest and Carlos Ernesto Morgan – Identical twins from the Cayman Islands, who competed in the sprints and jumps and attended the same college in the US, as well as sharing the track at events such as the Commonwealth Games.
Alvin and Calvin Harrison – Another set of identical twins, who became the first twins to win Olympic gold medals together in Athletics when they joined forces in the 4 x 400m relay at the Sydney 2000 games. Alvin won silver in the 400m in Atlanta 1996.
English Gardner – She is American, not English, and she rose to fame as a 100m sprinter, not a gardener. She won multiple national titles, made finals at multiple world championships and Olympic Games, and won Olympic relay gold. Maybe she does enjoy potting around in the backyard?
The International Olympic Committee has made the astounding announcement that the 2030 Winter Olympic Games will be held in the desert, with Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE to co-host the first edition of the games to take place nowhere near a mountain.
When asked to explain the shock decision, the IOC stated bluntly,
“The world will run out of snow.”
“Climate change is warming the globe and melting snow and ice throughout the world, as well as making weather patterns unpredictable. Accurate scientific evidence tells us that there will not be enough deep natural snow on any of the world’s peaks in the near future. As a result, the IOC has been forced to move the prestigious event indoors where athletes will compete on man-made snow.”
The Gulf States were chosen to host the historic sporting event because they already have indoor winter sports facilities such as ice rinks and ski slopes. In addition, their main revenue source, oil, has contributed greatly to the climate crisis which has rendered outdoor competition impossible.
Indoor winter sports venues emulating Ski Dubai will be built throughout the host nations to cater for the vast array of sports which now comprise the Winter Olympic program. Some disciplines, however, look set to be scrapped from the games forever.
The change in venue will not affect sports such as Ice Hockey, Figure Skating, Short Track, Speed Skating and Curling as they already take place indoors, but it will have major implications for the remaining disciplines.
“We have received assurance that Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton will still go ahead,” stated the spokesperson. “The roller coasters that are found in some shopping malls in this part of the world will be reconfigured to hold the sleighs used in these disciplines, allowing spectators to watch the competition from the food court.”
The IOC is also working with the International Ski Federation (FIS) and the host nations to construct suitable indoor venues for disciplines such as Aerial Skiing and Moguls, Ski and Snowboard Cross and Halfpipe, as well as snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom.
“Slopestyle may have to take place on the sand dunes,” conceded the spokesperson, “but at least it offers competitors an entirely new aesthetic for their Instagram posts.”
And what of the future of Big Air?
“Depends how big the airs are.”
Other traditional Winter Olympic disciplines face huge challenges as a result of the climate change induced move to the Middle East. Cross Country Skiing events and biathlon will be carried out on loop courses of 1 kilometre in length, meaning competitors in the 50km Cross Country race will be going round and round and round…
Biathlon competitors, meanwhile, will be forced to complete multiple laps of the 15 metre-long penalty loop every time they miss a target, reminiscent of athletes training during COVID-19 lockdown.
Alpine skiers who excel in the technical forms of the sport, such as Slalom and Giant Slalom, will notice little change to their events, except that they will take place indoors.
Downhill and Super G racers will unfortunately have to look for another sport.
“None of the venues will be tall enough to host a Downhill or Super G race,” stated organisers, “…and you can’t ski down the Burj Khalifa (yet)”
The IOC and FIS had initially considered simply starting downhill races further up mountains to find snow, but this proved unfeasible for many reasons.
“By 2030 snow will be found only on the very, very high mountains and the altitude will harm athletes who are already pushing their bodies to the limit. Also, electronic timing equipment may not work at such heights and the weather is a lot more extreme and unpredictable. Furthermore, chairlifts do not reach these heights, and nobody wants to ride a T Bar for that long. In addition helicopters used in broadcasting and medical emergencies can only fly so high”
As a result, downhill and Super G races will cease to exist in 2030 and beyond.
Critics of the plan argue the organisers should have simply used man-made snow on existing slopes, but organisers reminded them that snowmaking only works when the ground is cold enough.
“Global warming and climate change is heating the ground, so any man-made snow would simply melt, and this event is called the Winter Olympics, not the Muddy Olympics.”
Will major sporting events soon be held only in non-democratic countries?
International sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup may take place only in countries without genuine democracy as governments in democratic countries struggle to justify to their populations the exorbitant cost of hosting these events. Authorities in non-democratic countries, on the other hand, do not need to justify anything to their subjects.
The citizens of democratic nations are increasingly aware of the enormous financial costs and disruption required to host international competitions. The same people are also aware of the lack of funding directed towards more immediate needs in their countries such as schools, universities, hospitals and other infrastructure.
Do major sporting events make a profit?
The question is not so much whether major sporting events make a profit, or if they benefit countries in other ways. The question is whether governments can persuade their populations that the events make a profit or benefit the nation.
Can governments continue to justify the construction of enormous sporting stadia when government schools are underfunded?
Can governments continue to justify accommodating the world’s athletes when hospitals are underfunded?
Can governments justify spending $118 million on opening or closing ceremonies when public transport is insufficient or non-existant?
Brazil highlighted this contradiction recently. The country hosted both the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 despite a struggling economy, a broken public health system, grossly underfunded public schools and crumbling infrastructure. Many educated Brazilians are still waiting for the promised economic and social benefits of these two events. Many South Africans have undoubtedly been asking the same questions since 2010.
Have you ever volunteered at a major sporting event?
Would you volunteer at a major sporting event?
As everyday people learn more about the corruption and lavish lifestyles of the officials at major sporting organisations, surely they will be less inclined to jump into a garish uniform and stand for hours outside a train station directing fans to venues – for no pay.
Many volunteers have thankless jobs. They never see a moment of sport. The never see their sporting heroes in person. In return, they get to keep their uniform and receive a generic thankyou letter from a random politician. Major sporting events cannot go ahead without an army of volunteers. Could FIFA or the IOC afford to pay every volunteer at one of their international events?
Rulers of non-democratic nations, meanwhile, are better able to persuade citizens to volunteer.
Patriotism drives many volunteers to offer their vital services, but will it be enough in the future?
Patriotism drove young people to volunteer for the army in World War I for example, but many of today’s youth do not share this patriotic fervour. Can the same shift in attitude be applied to the sporting sphere, and would young people choose to volunteer for a sporting event?
Volunteers at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games spoke of their national pride, and continue to reference this as a motivation and reward for volunteering at the games. I myself experienced some of this patriotism when I volunteered. That said, I volunteered in the media, with the best seats in the house, at the Athletics, and spent the games interviewing athletes. I also sat on the finish line, a few rows back, when Cathy Freeman won gold. Most volunteers were not so lucky.
Patriotism also persuaded many Brazilians to eventually support, or at least stop criticising, the hosting of the 2014 World Cup. The government was canny enough to know that the country’s obsession with the world game would eventually silence many of its critics. This enthusiasm surely waned when they lost 7 – 1 to Germany on home soil.
The public is also much more likely to congratulate or tolerate a government’s decision to host a major event in that country wins. Winning elite sporting competitions also costs a lot of money.
Patriotism will still persuade many citizens to support international competitions in the future. Australians were elated to hear that their country will share the FIFA Women’s World Cup with New Zealand in 2023, but by that time will Australia still be a democracy?
A quick internet search reveals that many major events scheduled for the next five years will be held in countries such as Japan, Switzerland, France and Italy, which are universally accepted as democratic. Other events will be held in the USA, but as long as Trump is in office can the USA claim to be democratic?
It’s worth noting that all of these counties were awarded the competitions before the COVID-19 pandemic. When the total financial and social cost of the virus is calculated, will citizens support any future bids for major sporting events?
Non-democratic countries don’t need to justify anything to their subjects. China, Russia and the Gulf States are now hosting many of the world’s major sporting events and their governments operate unencumbered by public sentiment.
China has hosted many major sporting events and will do so in the near future. They entered this space by hosting the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and have hosted various forms of Asian Games. The Winter Olympics are set to be held in Beijing in 2022 and the country has been the venue for prestigious events in Basketball, Swimming and Athletics in recent years.
China is not a democratic nation.
Russia is an interesting conundrum. Russian athletes were prohibited from competing under the national flag at many recent major events due to widespread state-supported doping, but the country still hosted events such as the Winter Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in Kazan.
Russia is not a democratic nation.
The Gulf states
The Gulf states are attracting sports administrators to their nations. Their geographical location and air transport hubs make them enticing locations for staging international events, and their oil wealth allows them to cover the costs. The oil money also affords their people a very high standard of living and a subsequent tolerance of government policies.
Qatar is determined to become a sporting nation. They have invested heavily in sporting academies and sporting infrastructure. They host major events and hire foreign experts to train their homegrown talent. They are set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and have promised to keep players, officials, fans and the media comfortable despite the stifling desert heat. The air conditioned World Cup is bound to cost an absolute fortune, but the oil rich states should have little trouble convincing their subjects to bear this burden.
Having worked at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, which was the first major event of any kind held in that country, I can attest to the enthusiasm, pride and excitement Qataris will feel towards football’s greatest tournament in two year’s time.
The United Arab Emirates has attempted to position itself as a favourable tourism destination through hosting international competitions in sports such as Rugby Sevens, Tennis, Golf, Sailing, Equestrian and Road Running.
The flow-on effect
Financial costs and benefits are not the only factors for governments to consider when deciding to host a major event. Flow-on effects must also be taken into account.
One flow-on effect is the increase in sports participation after a major event such as the Olympic Games. This is not true. Many first-world countries which have recently hosted major events are seeing an increase in childhood obesity every year.
Major events lead to an increase in sports participation immediately after the games, or an increase in participation in particular sports. If a national hockey team or basketball team wins gold, those two sports will most likely attract more members. But many of these sports were probably mass participation sports in that country anyway. Norway wins Cross -Country skiing gold because of the popularity of that sport. The same can be said of Speed Skating in The Netherlands, Rugby Sevens in Fiji and Table Tennis in China.
Sporting infrastructure is touted as a positive legacy for a host city or country. Many venues are reused as specialist or multipurpose sporting facilities. However, A quick google search reveals a multitude of facilities in many countries left to crumble after world’s best athletes have departed. Some of these abandoned facilities were used as recently as the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
Evidence of this wastage, and the tactics used by governments to justify the initial construction, will surely make citizens of democratic nations more cynical and less inclined to support bids for major events in the future.
Is it cheaper to host E-Sports events?
Competitions still often take place inside sports stadiums but there are fewer competitors at fewer venues who seem to require less equipment. Competitions consist of a few ‘gamers’, their elaborate computer game equipment, copious energy drinks and some broadcast equipment to display the action on a big screen and to livestream to audiences around the world. The fact that E-Sports competitions take place electronically means that they can be enjoyed online. Does this make them easier and cheaper to host?
E-Sports must be an enticing options for governments in the future because they are enormously popular. The most watched Youtube videos are those featuring computer games and gamers.
Are we looking at this the wrong way?
Instead of asking whether only authoritarian regimes will host major events in the future, can we cite the hosting of an international sporting competition as evidence that a country is not democratic?
Persuading the powerful
Finally, how many countries will be able to afford to ‘persuade’ the sports officials who decide which country hosts the upcoming sporting extravaganza?
Alvin and Calvin Harrison and Carl Ernest and Carlos ErnestoMorgan have a lot in common. Both sets of twins are identical and both attended college in the United States. Both favour sprints and all four men represented their country in Athletics.
So, who would win a head to head competition between the families?
Firstly, we would have to decide on an event. We would have to choose neutral sporting territory.
While both sets of twins excelled in sprinting, Alvin and Calvin specialised in the 400m while Carl and Carlos enjoyed success over 100 and 200 metres, as well as long jump and triple jump.
Should we throw in a jumping contest? The Harrison boys only competed on the track, but I bet they are handy jumpers.
Perhaps a race over 300 metres?
What about the age difference?
The Harrison brothers were born on January 20, 1974, and the Morgan siblings on August 25, 1986, so some concessions may have to be made for the gap in ages.
We must then choose a venue.
The Harrisons hail from Orlando, Florida USA, while the Morgans were born and raised in Georgetown on the Cayman Islands. The Harrison siblings attended North Salinas High School in California and Hartnell College (Calvin), while the Morgan boys left home for Lindsey Wilson College, then Middle Tennessee State University, both in the USA.
The Cayman Islands seems to be the best site for an Athletic showdown. Why, because the Cayman Islands are much more beautiful than Orlando.
Having chosen the event and the venue, we can now examine historical records to compile a form guide for the competition.
Alvin and Calvin became the first twins to win a gold medal together in the same relay team when they combined with Michael Johnson and Antonio Pettigrew in the 4 x 400m relay at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Alvin ran the first leg and Calvin the third, both of them wearing state of the art bodysuits.
Alvin won individual silver in the 400m behind Johnson in Sydney, and also won gold in the relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. During his first relay gold medal victory, Alvin ran a strong second leg to ensure victory for a depleted US team.
Unfortunately, the brothers’ history making feat was annulled in 2008 when Pettigrew confessed to using performance enhancing drugs, and the quartet lost their medals. Calvin himself failed a drug test at the 2003 US Championship and was suspended from Athletics for two years.
Alvin also embroiled himself in drug-related controversy. He served a four year suspension due to circumstantial evidence of using a banned substance. He attempted a comeback in 2008, this time competing for the Dominican Republic, the birth country of his wife.
Under the new flag, he ran the 400m heats at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics and placed fourth with his new countrymen in the 4 x 400m relay at the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships.
Carl and Carlos combined in the 4 x 100m relay at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games where the Cayman Islands team was disqualified. In long jump qualifying heats, Carl jumped 7.46, and Carlos…7.47. They entered the same event in Glasgow four years later. Carl finished 10th in the long jump in the Pan American Games 2011.
Head to Head
Another method for measuring comparative excellence is to compare personal bests.
Since Alvin hung up his spikes, he has led high performance programs across various sports in the Dominican Republic and the United States.
Calvin, meanwhile, ended up homeless in 2009. He lost his life savings fighting his athletic suspension and insisting the substance he took was not on the banned substance list. He had secured work as a personal trainer after retiring from competition, but lost this work and struggled to support his wife and four kids. While his family sought shelter in a refuge, Calvin wandered the streets at night.
Alvin and Calvin co-authored a book called Go to Your Destiny, recounting their experience with homelessness before their Olympic victories.
Carl and Carlos both studied Health, Fitness and Wellness and continue to work in this field.
The biggest question which remains unanswered is, does Carlos Ernesto speak Spanish?
His hulking, dark-skinned frame slumped on the barriers separating the journalists from the media. Muscles bulged from every limb under his USA team kit and sweat dripped from his face, down his neck and over the sinews and protruding veins of his finely-tuned physique.
Did he just say that, read the expression on his face. The sprinter glanced from right to left to scan the reaction on the faces of other media in attendance and confirm what he had just heard.
Maybe he’d misheard. Maybe the physical and emotional exhaustion of an Olympic semi-final had caught up with him. Maybe the disappointment of failing to qualify for a final that he was good enough to win, and the realisation that years and years of training and sacrifice had amounted to nothing, caused him to misinterpret the question from the Chinese journalist.
But no. He had not misunderstood the question. The American (whose name I don’t remember) would leave the Beijing Olympic Games with bad memories, and this would be one of them.
The local reporter hadn’t meant to use the N word. He hadn’t intended to question a black athlete by using the word which has accompanied years of racism, oppression and discrimination throughout the world, especially in the country whose flag sat emblazoned on the athlete’s singlet.
The N word he had used was “NaGe” or “nage”. This Chinese word translates as ‘that one’ into English, and is used to connect sentences or phrases, or to fill a pause in conversation in everyday Chinese communication. It serves the same function as ‘um’ or ‘like’ in English. It is used a million times a day by Chinese speakers and has absolutely no racial or offensive meaning in English, because it has no meaning in English.
Unfortunately, when it is pronounced in connected speech, it sounds exactly like the N word, and that is what the athlete heard from the reporter. It was simply a very unfortunate example of a word being lost in translation.
It's hard to be subtle in a second language.
The second mistake the reporter made was asking a blunt and direct question to a visibly upset Olympian.
The meaning of the question was appropriate, the wording was not. The journalist was tasked with gauging the athlete’s response to his poor performance. The reporter was supposed to find out how and why the athlete performed below his usual standard and thus failed to qualify for the final.
The reporter could have asked:
“Tell us what happened out there”
“You would have expected a better result, can you explain what happened?”
“Obviously that’s not what you hoped for, is there a reason for your performance?”
Maybe the athlete was ill or carrying an undisclosed injury into the race. Maybe he was excessively nervous or had over trained in the days leading up to the event. We might have found out why, but not by using the words the local reporter used.
To be fair to the local journalist, he was not actually a journalist. By his own admission, he also didn’t know much about sport, let alone Athletics, which is the most prominent sport at multi-sport events such as the Olympic Games. The local reporter was a university lecturer, in a subject far removed from sport (Engineering from memory) and had somehow landed the role of mixed zone reporter in the Bird’s Nest.
After the incident, I tried to explain to my colleague how that word is problematic, but a lifelong habit is hard to break in a day, and he was not the most receptive of the local staff.
I couldn’t help thinking, how can a country of more than one billion people not find a handful of reporters who understand sport, understand the media and have a firm grasp of English or other languages?
Other reporters eventually leapt in and steered the interview towards an explanation for the unexpected performance, then the athlete slumped off to the changerooms to commiserate.
What did the athlete say in response to the unfortunate question?
The try line opened up in front of me. I was just 10 metres from glory and my first ever try in rugby league, plus a chance to send my team into the final of the Sydney Metropolitan U/6 round robin tournament.
I fixed my eyes on the prize and tucked the ball under my right arm. I gritted my teeth and charged for the try line when I saw a shape emerge from my left. It grew in size as it approached with zest and I knew it was aiming to cut me down. Through pure instinct I stuck out my left arm and produced a fend which belied my size and strength and sent the opposing halfback tumbling to the ground.
The elusive prize was still within my grasp and with growing confidence and eagerness I tore towards the opposition line as fast as my skinny little legs could carry me. I was nearing the line and the white chalk shone more brightly against the scuffed green grass and stud-marked mud. I was adamant that nothing would stop me from claiming the four points and the resultant hero status.
My eyes bulged with excitement until I felt another presence looming up on me. This one approached from behind on my right and I knew it had to be the opposing team’s speedster who had scored two of their tries with his blistering pace. Through intuition alone I anticipated his lunging tackle and stepped deftly off my left foot to leave him grasping at air. The try was still on.
No more than five metres separated me from victory and I lowered my head and charged towards the intersection of the try line and the touch line, as I knew this was the only way to evade the approaching cover defence. 4, 3, 2 metres and I had to keep charging and commit to the corner. The ball was cradled firmly within my arm and I made my final push. Smothered by two opposing players I crashed into the corner and was trampled into the mud, legs buckled under the two tacklers and arm outstretched to plant the ball over the try line with downward pressure. I had face planted and eaten dust and mud and grass and chalk and I knew I would be sore all over for days. I didn’t care. I was elated. I had scored the winning try which would propel my team into the grand final and a chance for metropolitan glory at the tender age of 5, when winning any game felt like winning a world cup.
I heard a muffle of screams and whoops and claps and groans as both teams reacted to my victorious lunge. I felt my team mates simultaneously jump on me and drag me off the ground and all pain subsided in a rush of joy and adrenaline.
On the way up from the ground, it happened.
I caught a glimpse of the linesman.
I knew I was close to the corner. That was deliberate. That was my only chance to score. I knew I had made it. I was sure I had landed within the field of play. I was pretty certain I had made it. I was confident. Surely it was a try.
Or was it?
As I regained my feet and was revelling in the adulation of my teammates and supporters, I saw it. Through flailing arms and back slaps and high fives I saw the flag. The linesman’s flag left his side and slowly, in a painstaking, slow motion arc, rose from the his hip up to his chest, beyond his chest, to his shoulder. Up, up it went. Up, up higher. Not Up, Up Cronulla, but up, up above his head until it was a mere extension if his outstretched arm.
The try had been disallowed. In the commotion, we had not heard the final whistle. We had lost. Elation turned to despair. The knock-out comp had knocked us out. It was all over.