SIOM #9: Jedwards

Greetings All,

Given that we’ve recently reached a milestone in the build up to next year’s spectacle I thought it only appropriate that this week’s instalment feature one of London’s own.

If you’ve managed to get this far (i.e. past the subject line), presumably you have done so out of morbid curiosity, despite your fears that this article might centre on the depressingly popular phenomenon and indictment of both the modern youth’s taste in music and British celebrity culture in general – the twin Irish pop duo of John and Edward Grimes (together, “Jedward”). You will be relieved to know that the subject is in fact former triple jump superstar Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan’s background lacks the challenging macroeconomic backdrop and intrafamily instability that have beset numerous individuals ofSIOM features past. His story is nevertheless inspiring from the perspective of perseverance and to challenge the notion that one need choose between family and sporting immortality (in the tradition of Kim Clijsters and Roger Fedwarder, for example).

Edwards was born in May 1966 in London. He attended West Buckland School (near Devon) where his potential for triple jump was spotted at an early age and nurtured through to University level. He competed for Durham University in the 1987 World University Games, coming ninth. He then failed to qualify for the final of the 1988 Games in Seoul before coming third in the World Cup, cementing his status as Britain’s best triple jumper with a leap of 17.28m.

Jonathan progressed steadily in the years that followed, earning a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games in 1992 (despite nursing an injured right ankle), a feat that he repeated at the Commonwealth Games two years subsequently, together with a gold medal at the 1992 World Cup (which somewhat compensated for his second failure to qualify for a Games final, this time in Barcelona, and a disappointing sixth place at the 1994 European Championships).

In summary, while he had improved his personal best on numerous occasions up to the 1995 season, and opened that season with a leap of 17.58m (40cm short of the then world record, which had stood for ten years), there was little to suggest that he would soon become untouchable. Few foresaw the formidable package that his speed on the runway (he subsequently claimed that he was faster than Linford Christie over 20m, and would go on to record a personal best of 10.48 seconds in the 100m a year later) and pure jumping ability (he recorded 7.41m in the long jump in 1992) would represent.

At the 1995 European Cup he stamped his authority on the event, and no doubt struck fear in the hearts of those who dared to compete against him thereafter, with a jump of over 18 metres. Well over 18 metres. 43 centimetres over 18 metres, in fact. This game-changingly formidable effort was unfortunately ineligible for world record purposes (despite shattering the existing mark by almost 50cm) due to wind assistance. He nevertheless took the gold medal and, with it, a significant psychological advantage going forward.

At the World Championships later that year, no psychological advantage was needed, for he did not need others to fail in order to succeed:

 

The following year he got back on the Olympic horse for a third time. He not only qualified for his first Olympic final at the Atlanta Games, but carried the “favourite” tag. Such was his dominance that a gold medal seemed inevitable. Kenny Harrison of the USA threw down the gauntlet with a first jump of 17.99m. Edwards then leapt over 18m, disallowed as his toes crept over the starting board. Harrison’s third jump proved decisive:

 

Harrison remains the only person other than Edwards to record a legal jump of over 18m. Unfortunately for Edwards and the British public, he had saved this performance for the world’s greatest athletic stage. Jonathan’s best effort of 17.88m remains the furthest ever jump not to win a gold medal.

Edwards entered the Sydney Arena at the 2000 Games with a wealth of experience but an age disadvantage. At 34 years old, this was surely his last chance at Olympic gold and a longer shot than his Atlanta opportunity (since which he had fathered two children). He was favourite and world number 1 but had not won a world title since his double record breaking effort in 1995. His mother in law died just days before the Games and he was in two minds as to whether or not to compete at all.

In the qualifying rounds, he posted 17.08m (fourth place) with compatriots Onochie Achike and Phillips Idowu leading the field. And so on to the final:

 

Finally, redemption. A testament to perseverance and courage from an individual whose upbringing was not entirely dissimilar to that of many on this mailing list.

Edwards, however, was not quite finished. In 2002, he completed his set of major international titles by adding a Commonwealth Games gold to his European, Olympic and World titles.

Jonathan continues to commentate on the BBC and is a member of the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympic Games. And so we have gone full circle.

Cheers,

Rob

PS> I’m off to Seinfeld tonight and couldn’t resist including this:

 

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SIOM #8: Eric the Eel

Greetings all,

For those of you new to the mailing list, this is instalment 8 of my “Sporadic Inspirational Olympic Moment” series (or “SIOM”, which has evolved into a weekly feature, the apparently now redundant “Sporadic” aspect retained merely to provide flexibility in the event that a week is missed). I intend to send a weekly story all the way up to London 2012 Games. Previous editions forwarded below.

This week’s instalment is a touching and unusual one. I thought it appropriate to tap into the exuberant mood presumably permeating the UK-based among you (given the upcoming bank holiday this Monday – suck it, South Africans, we didn’t get April 27th this side!) I also thought it necessary to turn the tables on last week’s sad story (which, based on the number of replies I subsequently received, was less popular than the happier tales!)

Eric Moussambani Malonga will celebrate his 33rd birthday this coming Tuesday. At the Sydney Games in 2000, he represented Equatorial Guinea, a country that has yet to win an Olympic medal (having participated in the summer games since 1984). Eric, while not a medal winner, remains easily the most famous Equatoguinean ever to have graced the Games.

Moussambani did not meet the minimum qualification requirements to participate in the 100m at Sydney. He gained entry via a wildcard draw that had been established in order to provide opportunities for athletes from developing countries that had only rudimentary training facilities and thereby increase sport’s international reach.

Eric was arguably ill-prepared for the event, comprising two laps of a 50m pool. He had learned to swim just months before (in January 2000) and trained exclusively in a 20m pool with no lane markers in his African homeland. Prior to the preliminaries, he had never raced more than 50 metres.

His first taste of the limelight at the Games came when he carried his country’s flag in the opening ceremony, leading Team Equatorial Guinea, which comprised eleven athletes in total. He could surely not have anticipated the fame that would follow a few days hence.

In a pool famous for blistering times and record breaking achievements (42 world records in total, two of those set for Eric’s event at the Sydney Games)1 he created a somewhat different race to remember.

Moussambani was there not break world records, but to break the perception that a person required talent and ability to inspire, that one could not do so with determination alone. He was there not to capture Olympic medals, but to capture the hearts of those watching, those who had the audacity to try, who dared to dream despite overwhelming odds. He was there to proudly compete for his nation, and he did so to the best of his ability.

This is what happened:

Asked to comment on his effort, Eric replied, “”The first 50 metres were okay but in the second 50 metres I got a bit worried and thought I wasn’t going to make it. Then something happened I think it was all the people getting behind me. I was really, really proud. It is still a great feeling for me and I loved when everyone applauded me at the end. I felt like I had won a medal or something.”

After the race, Eric intended to track down his hero, Australian star Michael Klim (who, for three days, held the world record in his event). He didn’t have to. In Moussambani’s words, “After the race the other night, he came to me. He just walked up to me in the dressing room and shook my hand. The only bad thing is I didn’t have my camera.” Australian hero Ian Thorpe expressed his admiration for Moussambani, proclaiming, “This is what the Olympics is all about”.

In the days that followed, The German team took him out for a dinner cruise round Sydney Harbour, the South African team visited him, Thorpe congratulated him, Time magazine pestered him for an interview (together with the Spanish, French, English, Swedish, Japanese, Canadian and Australian media) and Speedo gave him a Fastskin bodysuit. Someone put a sign over his room at the athletes’ village declaring “Eric The Swimmer”.

Good on you Eric. I would venture to suggest that your efforts have inspired a new generation of budding athletes, from your native Equatorial Guinea and around the world.

1Australian Michael Klim recorded a time of 48.18 in the first leg of the 4x200m freestyle, only to be broken by Dutchman Peter Van Den Hoogenband three days later in the individual semifinal, with a time of 47.84

Epilogue: Moussambani trained relentlessly in the years that followed, ultimately recording a personal best of under 57 seconds, almost a minute quicker than his Sydney effort.

 

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SIOM #7: The Great Dane

Greetings All,

This week’s Moment will be more “statsy” than usual, for this athlete’s achievements are so numerous and amazing that flowery prose is not required to enhance them.

Wilson Kipketer  was born in Kenya on 12 December 1972). He is widely regarded as the greatest 800m runner of all time, for reasons that should be apparent from what is to follow.

It bears mentioning that his longevity was such that his career spanned three Olympic Games. He therefore had three bites at the Olympic Gold cherry, surely the sweetest of the fruits of any athlete’s labour. But enough of that analogy.

Formative years to the 1996 Atlanta Games – a rising star

Wilson was first noticed by fellow Kenyan and former Olympin Kip Keino (4 Olympic medals, two gold, two silver, in 1968 and 1972) who suggested that he attend the Catholic St. Patrick’s High School in Iten, Kenya, renowned for successfully nurturing young runners. In 1990, he travelled to Denmark to study as a foreign exchange student, subsequently applying for, and obtaining, Danish citizenship.

Kipketer’s career took off in 1994, when he won 16 of 18 800 meter races and ran the second fastest 800 meters of the year.

In 1995, he won 10 of 12 races, ran under 1:43 twice (becoming only the second man to do this in one season) and won gold for Denmark in the 1995 World Championships.

Kipketer remained undefeated throughout 1996, including wins over the 800m Olympic medallists. He remained, however, without an Olympic medal, following the IOC’s decision to exclude him from the Games, deeming that he was not a full Danish citizen and, as such, was ineligible to compete for Denmark.

1996 Atlanta Games to Sydney 2000 – dominance

In 1997, Kipketer twice broke the world indoor record by over a second at the World Championships in France (once in the heats and again in the final). He subsequently tied the outdoor world record, established by Britain’s Sebastian Coe 16 years earlier, before breaking that twice too. He was voted Athlete of the Year by Track and Field magazine.

Wilson’s 1998 season, while still impressive, was impacted by malaria. In 1999, he was again undefeated, and won a third consecutive World Championship gold (adding to his victories in 1997 and 1995).

In 2000, he broke the 1,000m record but appeared to have hit a slump in form just as the Sydney Games approached, losing three of the four races in which he competed.

Despite this, it would take a brave individual to bet against him attaining the Olympic gold that had eluded him for so long.

Some of you may recall that Hezekiel Sepeng of South Africa registered a surprise silver. Who got gold though?

2000 Sydney Games to Athens 2004 – fighting father time

In 2002, at the age of 31, Kipketer won European Championship gold, defeating the reigning World and Olympic champions. He won eight of nine 800m races, ran the season’s fastest time and was ranked number 1 in the world by Track & Field magazine for the sixth time.

There was fight in the relatively old dog yet.

Despite an injury-riddled 2003 season during which he finished second at the Indoor World Championships and fourth at the World Championships, the question leading up to Atlanta was: Will one of the greatest athletes never to win an Olympic gold finally attain the redemption that he so richly deserved?

Post Sydney prologue

Not every story is a fairytale, folks.

Kipketer’s Olympic cloud had a silver lining, if not a gold one, but I would contend that the inspiration he exudes lies not in Olympic redemption, but in his tenacity and determination, ultimately culminating in one last attempt at the age of 33.

He is today a member of the ‘Champions for Peace’ club, a group committed to serving peace in the world through sport.

Cheers,

Rob

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SIOM #6: The Maputo Express

Greetings all,

Every so often the world is blessed by an individual who inspires a nation.

In the Olympic context, it’s challenging to determine a metric which evidences such inspiration.

However, the all time list of Olympic medals by country provides some insight.

The US, of course, leads this table, with almost 3,000 medals of a possible 14,000. In the US context, national inspiration is a function of quantity – the names Mark Spitz (9 Olympic golds, 7 of them in Munich at the ’72 games) and Michael Phelps (14 golds, 6 in Athens in ’04 and 8 in Beijing in ’08) come to mind.

At the other end of the spectrum lie nations whose entire tally is due to the efforts of just one person. In these instances, national inspiration is a function of quality.

Mozambique is one such nation. Maria Mutola is one such individual.

Mutola’s story is one of humble beginnings, born to a railway employee and a market vendor in the Chamanculo district of Maputo.

As a young girl she excelled in football, playing with boys, as there were no leagues or teams for girls.

In 1988, she was encouraged to take up athletics but, unaccustomed to the intensive training, initially decided that running was not for her. She was persuaded to reconsider when it became obvious that she had immense potential.

She visited Portugal and was to join the Benfica athletics club until the Mozambique government denied her permission. That year, after only a few months’ training, she won a silver medal in the 800 m at the African Championships, before competing in the 1988 Summer Olympics. She ran a personal best time of 2:04.36, but finished last in her first round heat. Mutola was still only fifteen years old.

Principally due to a lack of local competition, attempts were made to organise scholarships for her to train abroad. Only in 1991 did she receive such a scholarship, studying and training in Oregon, USA (the home of Nike), where she was hosted by Springfield High School, due to the fact that it had a Portuguese-speaking staff member (Mutola spoke no English).

Mutola surprised many by finishing 4th in the final of the 1991 IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Tokyo, where her time of 1:57.63 constituted a World Junior Record. She was denied a podium place by falling athletes in the final few metres and an unsuccessful protest was lodged.

At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona there were great hopes for Mutola to win Mozambique’s first Olympic medal. She ran strongly but faded badly in the home straight, eventually finishing fifth.

At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Mutola was a hot favourite to win, as she hadn’t been beaten in an 800 m final since 1992 and her winning streak stretched to over forty 800 m and 1000 m finals. She did indeed win Mozambique’s first Olympic medal, but it was not the colour that many expected. Suffering from the flu, she finished third. Svetlana Masterkova took the gold medal and, soon thereafter, Mutola’s 1,000m record.

Four years later in Sydney, Maria had a shot at redemption. Her main rivals? Masterkova, for one. Kelly Holmes of Great Britain (who would go on to win 800m and 1,500m gold in Athens) was another major threat. Stephanie Graf of Austria was also a contender (and still holds the national Austrian record)

Could she do it? Let’s find out (lady in yellow)

Mutola returned to Mozambique after her Olympic victory, huge crowds came to cheer her and a road in Maputo was named after her.

Amongst numerous other public works (including the Lurdes Mutola Foundation, which assists Mazambican youngsters in achieving their sporting and educational goals, involvement in a UNICEF immunisation campaign against measles and polio and contribution to housing development initiatives in Maputo), she provided financial support that enabled an artificial track to be constructed on the sports ground at which she had originally trained as a 15 year old.

A final endorsement from Wikipedia:

“Mutola is often ranked as the greatest female 800 m runner of all time. She has not gained a world record, but her consistency, her record at major championships and her ability to compete at the highest levels of the sport for well over a decade are unmatched. The 2008 Olympics were her sixth successive Olympics”.

Cheers,

Rob

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SIOM #5: The Will of Bill Mills

Greetings All,

Today’s event takes us to the 10,000m (my favourite event, hence it’s featuring twice in the first five “inspirational moments”).

This time we’re off to Tokyo. The year is 1964.

The stellar field included:

  • Ron Clarke of Australia (world record holder at the time),
  • Pyotr Bolotnikov (USSR, 10,000m defending champion) and
  • Murray Halberg (New Zealand,5,000m winner at the previous Games in Rome, 1960)

Furthermore, some rising stars were thrown into the mix:

  • Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia (who subsequently took Olympic Marathon Gold at Mexico city in 1968) and
  • Mohammed Gammoudi from Tunisia (5,000m gold and 10,000m silver in 1968, an individual with a reputation for liberal elbow use – watch closely)

One would have thought that the gold medal winner would be, and indeed, the entire podium would comprise, individuals from the above list.

There was, however, a lesser known contender, who, similarly to Bob Beamon, had been raised by his grandmother (having been orphaned at the age of 12).

A contender who graduated with a degree in phys ed and was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

A rank outsider who finished second in the US Olympic Trials, his time a full minute slower than Ron Clarke’s.

That man was American Indian Billy Mills.

Given that Clarke’s world record time was 28m15 and Mills had never run under 29 minutes, he wasn’t given much of a chance. Indeed, the unprofessionally partisan surprise and excitement expressed in the final stages of the race by one of the commentators led to his subsequent sacking:

 

Mills was the second native American to win an Olympic gold medal, and attributes a large part of his success to mental preparation.

He visualised victory at the Olympics and diarised positive self talk. Dozens of times per day. Over a matter of years. Something for the Comrades hopefuls to perhaps bear in mind.

Further info on the man: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Mills#1964_Olympics

In true American fashion, Mills is the subject of a feature film (Running Brave, 1984) and has been inducted into no less than seven US-based halls of fame.

Cheers,

Rob

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SIOM #4: Beamonesque

Howzit everyone (my last two weeks in SA are starting to show),

Given that the previous instalment was a tragic one, and to further fuel the ebullient mood created by the Royal Wedding, I thought we’d have a triumphant feature this week.

1968, Mexico City.

Olympic aficionados will at this stage already know the event.

Bob Beamon’s road to the long jump finals had been littered with obstacles throughout his life:

  • Born in Queens, New York, his mother died of TB at the age of 25, when he was just 8 months old. He was brought up by his gran, as his father had physically abused his mother and threatened to kill him.
  • In high school he sidestepped gang culture by immersing himself in basketball, believing that this pursuit garnered respect. In his words, “I feel it saved me from being cut up… Nobody would want to ruin your shooting eye or your shooting arm.”
  • He discovered long jump, which ultimately carried him to El Paso university on full scholarship. When he refused to compete against a Mormon school, to whose racial policies he objected, he was suspended from El Paso and stripped of his scholarship (and coach).
  • He was then unofficially advised by Ralph Boston, who held the olympic record and jointly held the world record at the time (the latter previously set by Jesse Owens in 1935).
  • Leading up to the 1968 Games, he’d had a stellar season, which almost unravelled at qualification. Following two foul jumps (and with one attempt remaining), Boston told him to leap from a foot behind the board if necessary. It worked, and the two travelled to Mexico City.
  • The night before the Games, having lost his scholarship and following an argument with his wife, he needed a sleeping aid and chose a shot of tequila.

The following day a compelling field assembled (including the joint world record holders and Lynn Davies, the defending olympic champion).

Beamon had the privilege of jumping first, in beneficial conditions (at high altitude and with the maximum permissable trailing wind speed of 2m/sec).

In six seconds, and in what many consider to be the greatest Olympic record of all time, he leapt into the history books:

Beamon’s jump bettered, nay, battered, the existing mark by 55cm, in a record that stood for 23 years and remains the second furthest wind legal jump of all time (dramatic graph at the end of this post).

Davies told Beamon that he had “destroyed the event”. The remaining competitors realised that there were suddenly only two spots left on the podium. Klaus Beer of West Germany got silver, jumping 8.19m (over 70cm short of Beamon’s mark), while Beamon’s coach managed bronze.

So spectacular was Beamon’s feat that it coined the phrase “Beamonesque” (Urbandictionary’s definition: “doing something completly unexpected and being completly amazing coming out of no where with great excellence involved”). The Olympic website defines it thusly, “an athletic feat so dramatically superior to previous feats that it overwhelms the imagination.”

Beamon subsequently graduated with a degree in sociology from Adelphi University (up yours, El Paso) and was drafted for the Phoenix Suns major league basketball team, before being inducted to the National Track and Field, and USA Olympic, halls of fame.

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SIOM #3: The Redmond Family

Greetings all,

If you’re reading this on Friday morning, it’s likely you’ve not got the day off. Boo! Hopefully this will bring some inspiration. The rest, trust you’ve had a brilliant Easter break and this acts as an antidote to that back-to-school feeling!

Today’s story takes us to Barcelona, 1992.

Derek Redmond was one of Britain’s leading Olympic medal contenders, having won 4x400m gold medals at the European Championships and Commonwealth Games (both 1986) and World Championships (1991). He held the GB 400m record in 1985, lost it subsequently and reclaimed it in 1987.

Prior to the 1992 Olympics, injuries saw him undergo eight operations.

By the time the Olympics came around, his form had recovered.

He posted the fastest time of the first round and won his quarterfinal heat.

In the form of his life and buoyed by his stellar performances in the early rounds, Derek Redmond marched on to the semi final.

I venture to suggest that none of the 65,000 strong crowd, nor the billions watching on TV, could possibly have anticipated, or subsequently forgot, what happened next.

Easter is a time for family. This semi final was a time for family too:

A happy ending, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Two years after the Olympics in Barcelona, he [Derek Redmond] was told by a surgeon that he would never run again or represent his country in sport. However after coming to terms with the loss of athletics as a career, he began to turn his attention, with the encouragement of his father, to other sports that he enjoyed. After trials at several basketball clubs, he secured a place on the GB basketball team. He sent a signed photo of the team to the surgeon that had assured him he would never represent his country in sport again.”

Derek Redmond, with the assistance of his father, completes the 400m at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona

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SIOM #2: Shunning Individuality

Greetings All,

Heading off to SA this eve and internet access at home is somewhat temperamental, hence this week’s moment is ahead of schedule.

Today’s event: Mens all-around team gymnastics, Montreal, 1976.

The Japanese team felt a sense of duty, and had a legacy to maintain, their predecessors having secured gold in the preceding four Games.

Their major competition came in the form of Russia, who, having been runners up in the preceding four Games, were suitably motivated.

Midway through the competition, the team scores were extremely tight.

The Japanese contingent had suffered a significant setback, which was only later revealed, and which embodied the spirit of teamwork:

(Bass – thanks for the inspiration – I recall a certain poster in your room on yellow third)

Some further commentary from Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shun_Fujimoto.

Key excerpts:

“Continuing to compete in the team event right after breaking his knee… worsened his injury, dislocating his broken kneecap and tearing ligaments… Doctors … withdraw … or risk permanent disability” 

“How he managed to do somersaults and twists and land without collapsing in screams is beyond my comprehension” -Doctor

“No, I would not” – Shun, on whether he would do the same again

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SIOM #1: Yifter the Shifter

Today’s event: 10,000m at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

One leading contender was Lasse Viren, the “Flying Finn” – double defending champion (5,000 and 10,000m gold at Munich in ’72 and Montreal in ’76).

Enter Miruts Yifter, a lesser known and aged Ethiopian contender (rumoured to be in his 40s), nicknamed “Yifter the Shifter”.

To find out why, look what happens on the last lap (c.9 mins in):

Some further background on “The Shifter”:

http://www.helium.com/items/1024130-remembering-olympic-distance-runner-miruts-yifter

Yifter the Shifter celebrates Olympic glory following the 10,000m final at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow

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