Your race was run before it had even begun

LP Columnist Barry Freeman
LP Columnist Barry Freeman
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Of course, the tragedy of everyone not currently in Rio scrapping it out over precious metals is that we failed our own Olympic trial without ever realising it was underway.

The tale of a pal of mine illustrates well, I think, how this sorting of sporting wheat from chaff catches most of us off guard.

In my mate’s case it took just one cross country run for the games teacher at our secondary school to suss him out, and within weeks there he is, all of a sudden training with Preston Harriers.

“I never knew you was into running,” someone remarked to him at the time.

“I’m not,” came his faintly bemused reply.

And he wasn’t, he just happened by some quirk of nature to be physically predisposed to the discipline. Trouble was, he much preferred football and soon turned in his spikes.

And this I suspect is largely how the system works all over Britain, all over the world perhaps, particularly in the world of track and field. Because truth told, how many kids rock up at 11 or 12 with dreams of discus gold?

Nah, they’re all going to score the winning goal in the FA Cup or its netball equivalent. Or be a pop star. Or something else obvious and glamorous. Very few, one suspects, arrive dreaming of steeplechase and similar glory.

But then it begins.

By the time I and my peers entered our third year, we had jumped – long and high and first hopping then skipping – repeatedly covered 100m, 400m, 800m and more, passed batons, put shots, flung javelins, spun the discus, had a bash on a hammer…

You name a track and field event, we’d been put through our paces at it, and each discipline measured, timed, scrupulously recorded in the teacher’s little book.

And for all this sifting? One glimmer of potential, that – it turned out – was swiftly snuffed.

Still, at least we were in the running, and if nothing else this roster of activity has at least, in most cases, modestly enhanced our enjoyment of the Olympic Games. Put simply, we understand how hard it is to get a javelin to fly like that because we’ve tried it and nearly skewered ourselves in the process.

Maybe this is why next to nobody I know gives a toss about dressage. Or rowing. That, and the fact that in televisual terms they thrill like warm milk laced with valium.