Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Can Sport Still Awe & Amaze Us?

Long Jumper Bob Beamon at the 1968 Summer Olympic Games

One of my first distinct memories of the Olympic Games was watching the Long Jump competition at the 1968 Mexico Summer Olympic Games as a 7-year old live on TV - back when NBC actually showed stuff live! That was where American Bob Beamon broke the then world record of by an almost preposterous amount of nearly 2 ft( about 50cm), to push the new record to 29ft. 2 1/2 in.(8.90m)! That record stood for 22 years, until another American, Mike Powell broke it in 1991.

A short video of Beamon's jump can be seen here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DEt_Xgg8dzc

I looked on, watching on TV, in true awe and amazement. Even Beamon was completely overcome with emotion, not by the win, by by the magnitude of what he had done - ounce it sunk in. He fell to the ground and was unable to get up or walk for a good long time after the distance was announced. He had jumped so far, it was almost beyond the measuring system they had in place! It was beyond what many thought a human could jump! But it was all real!

Later that day I was out in our back-yard with my Dad. He got out a tape measure and we measured off 29 feet. I stood at one end and my Dad stood at the other and I had my second moment of awe and amazement looking at my now distant Father and wondering, "How could someone jump THAT far"?

Do we still feel that sense of awe and amazement today, when new records or sport performance reach new heights that seem, exceptional? I wonder.

The first final of the Rio Olympic Games in Athletics was the women's 10,000m race. In that race, running only her 2nd 10,000m on the track Ethiopian Almaz Ayana crushed the standing 10,000m record for women, running an astonishing time of 29:17.45 - completely solo! She left a field of world class runners WELL behind breaking the previous record by 14 seconds! It was one of those extraordinary Beamon-like performances, that has announcers running out of superlatives.

However, no sooner than the diminutive Ayana was across the line and social media started to light up with talk of how, the record could NOT be "clean"! After all, the the record being broken, set by the Chinese runner,  Wang Junxia     was, almost for certain set by a runner using some form of Performance Enhancing Drug (PED). A number of the Chinese women who were part of that training group, called "Ma's Army", after their coach, Ma Junren, have admitted they were all using PEDs of one form or another at the time!

Consequently with controversy and questions swirling around it's hard to be in awe and to be amazed any more.

The true believers, the really naive, and many sport officials, will say - "Look, there are no positive tests". We have to conclude they are clean". But we know now, that athletes can be tested over the course of their careers hundreds of times, and never turn in a positive test. Exhibit-A in this regard would be Lance Armstrong - tested hundreds of times, never positive (one suspicious), and 7-Tour de France wins! Of course, as we know Armstrong admitted after-the-fact that he was using various PEDs all along and stripped of all of those Tour de France wins.

Who can we believe? What are we to make of exceptional and extraordinary sports performances now? Are we to be immediately skeptical, or can we to look on in a state of awe and amazement?

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