All the way from America

Lack of recent blogging often means the blogger has given up or died. Rumours of either in my case are much exaggerated*.

Regular readers will know that, after two years that have seen this Masters athlete coping with injury and depression, I was facing up to the World Masters Championships, in Sacramento, California. I’m writing this a couple of days after getting home. Some pretty un-distilled thoughts, then. Body is still jet-lagged, and I’m having the customary post championships immune system struggle, leading to a bad head cold. (First draft had that as “bald head cold”.  The cap fits…)

But I should have a silver medal from the 4x100m relay to show for it. Yes, a medal, despite everything. The word is “chuffed”, I think. This blog isn’t going to become another place for an athlete to slag off the Organising Committee for the Sacramento Worlds, even if I have an almost overwhelming desire to catalogue their many, simple, avoidable failings. Suffice it to say that they screwed up, in my view, and left a great team of officials and volunteers to work around concepts and arrangements that were basically flawed. I think there is also evidence that host venue, Sac State University, also held the organisers to ransom and attempted to make megabucks from the event.

Others will do the post mortem better. Or, as this is World Masters Athletics, will just stick their heads back in the sand and pretend nothing went wrong. Already signs of the USA pretending “US athletes did well” (which many did) means “Organisers screwed up” is a far lesser issue. These were, we were told, going to be the Championships that learned from the mistakes made by others. Far from it. These Championships made many, many basic errors which organisers of future championships will have no problem whatsoever avoiding. Perhaps we should actually be grateful to them for reminding us that f-ing up on simple, basic things leaves such a bad, and avoidable, after-taste?

But there is one thing I will not forgive. You may have noted that I said “I should have a silver medal”. A gold would have been good, but the US squad was better on the day. I’d even have been happy with a bronze, given that the Aussies ran us close. But I have nothing. Because the Organisers contrived to run out of medals.

Just let that sink in for a moment. One gold, one silver, one bronze per event. Plus four of each for every top 3 relay team. A few spares to cover when the photo-finish fails to split the result. A primary school kid could do it on his/her fingers, never mind a computer. And this is an event held in a nation that knows all there is to know about rocket science, of course. Yet a full day before the end of the event, they ran out of medals.

Let me admit that I have been bruised since 2007 about this sort of thing. In my first World Masters, in Riccione, Italy that year, I ran my socks off in the sprint relay. We pipped the USA for gold, against the odds. When it came to the podium presentation, the Italian officials had taken a long lunch break. They were determined to get things back on schedule, and simply cancelled a whole bundle of medal ceremonies. At the time, we were a bit miffed. This was my first big event gold, and being presented it in the usual sort of ceremony, in front of friends, cameras and opponents, was going to be a way for me to show to myself that this insane sport thing I am still doing IS worthwhile. To show it DOES have rewards. It is more than its own reward, and a bit of recognition is a basic human need. In other words, I needed the event to feed my head. Being handed the medal by a track official as we were leaving the stadium to catch the bus didn’t do that.

The gold medal ceremony for the relay in Finland two years later was a landmark. Flawless. My gold in that went a very long way to heal the sadness at missing out on an individual medal in Lahti in the 200m by 2/100ths of a second. Scroll back several blogs here and you’ll find the story as well as the photo-finish picture! Getting the medal reminded me to never give up, and all those sorts of things. Corny to some people, perhaps. But when you drive yourself as hard as I do, when you train alone most of the time, and have a burning desire to show to the support crew of family, chiros, sports masseur etc, that they’re doing a great job too, recognition, and a lump of metal on a ribbon, becomes so much more than the sum of the individual parts.

Ironically, that ceremony in Lahti was also the point that the little voice inside said “Supposing this is as good as it gets? Can you handle that?”. Cue depression, when injury and other factors suggested for almost a couple of years that I couldn’t. Of course, I now know of the need to turn that negative voice around, and say “If that was as good as it gets, it was pretty damned good!”. I didn’t have those skills at the time, though.

And maybe it was as good as it will ever get. It was 2-0 to us against the Yanks, coming into Sacramento, and a hat trick would have been good. Injury robbed us of Big Geoff and Eric during the Championships, but Wally, Tony, Trevor and I still made a great squad. The Americans, on their own territory, had the advantage of not having had to travel half way around the world to take part, for starters, but they were always faster than us. This time. However, even in the form of a lump of silver metal on a ribbon, I still needed to see, feel and hear that we’d come close. To know that the suffering and sacrifices, sheer bloody hard work (by me and my support crew) were still paying dividends, and that there was every reason to press on for the next attempt to be the best. To be the fastest.

And the Sacramento organisers robbed us of this by sheer administrative carelessness. They’ll be putting the medal in the mail to me eventually, of course, but this one will be tainted. How glad I was that the GB athletes and supporters chorused every medallist with a round of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at the ceremonies**.

Yup, the medal might well be recognition, but it recognises a team effort, not just on the day, but back at base too. That is, perversely, what the organisers’ failures in Sacramento have really brought home to me.

Clouds do have silver linings.

*Having just returned from Mark Twain country, I had to throw that one in.

** See this video for an example, from the M35 age group ceremony the same day!

L to R: Me, Tony Wells, Wally Franklyn, Trevor Wade

Wally to me!


3 Responses to “All the way from America”

  1. kevinfforde Says:

    Congrats on your silver medal….whenever you get it!
    For what it’s worth twice in the last four years I’ve had to wait for relay medals at the end of USATF Masters Nationals because they’d ran out of them…….

    • tomsprints Says:

      Kevin, thanks. I’ve heard of events where this has happened (usually junior high school meets etc!) but never in my dreams did I think that it would happen at World Masters Championships. Winning that medal was a form of closure for me. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve followed my story. Although I have come to terms with the screw up in Sacramento, it irritates!

  2. kevin f Says:

    Tom,I hear you,it’s bad enough when Nationals run out of medals but Worlds,c’mon!!!
    Hope your well earnt silver makes it way back across the pond soon

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