Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Trip on the Final Hurdle

Sebastian Coe, head of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, has worked very hard to preside over a very successful Olympic Games.  Then he blew he own lap of honor.

For reasons unknown, today's Olympic men's marathon was not, as is the happy custom, the last event of the Games. It did not end at the Olympic Stadium with the winner finishing on the track with a lap taken in front of a packed and shrieking stadium that has come for the closing ceremonies. Instead, the marathon took place in midday, and finished in the streets of London, in front of picturesque but otherwise non-sports related Buckingham Palace.

As far as stagecraft goes, this decision is roughly akin to having James Brown as a warmup act for Katy Perry.  Those 400 meters and roughly 90-100 seconds are, to me anyway and I think many others, the supreme Olympic experience. The one ectomorph finishing the marathon's ordeal in glory is the representative of every participant in a Games, of every participant of every Games there have ever been. He is Jim Thorpe and Jesse Owens, Olga Korbut and Larry Bird, Michael Johnson, Michael, Usain Bolt and the USA women's soccer team. The peculiar spectacle of a huge crowd cheering for a relatively unknown human being completing an extraordinarily testing and let's face it, extraordinarily odd athletic endeavor is really the Olympics, no, all of sports, boiled down to its essence.

That lap is supposed to end the Olympics in one last shout of exultation and exhaustion. For everybody, from the marathoners to the fans, to most of all, the thousands of persons who worked their posteriors off to put on the show. It's THEIR encore, their flashbulb moment.

And they didn't get it. Strangest of all, Coe is one of the greatest track athletes in history. He is as aware of his (often ignored in his own country) sport's tradition as a man can be. Yet he chose to sign off on erasing one of its sweetest, fiercest moments of joy.

It's sad and incomprehensible. A British stiff upper lip is all very well. But showmanship is as much a part of sports as sweat. Coe and his committee helped create many memories that'll last a lifetime. Yet they blew the one that should've been THEIR lifetime memory.


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