The Italians have a nice name for it. “Medaglio di legno”. The wooden medal. Fourth place. This evening, in the European Masters Games 200 metres final, I “won” another one. But I’m pleased, really. We could have come close to not running at all. Some might say “should”.
Over the weekend, some really bad storms had been tracking across Europe. Snow closed a major Swiss motorway, etc. In Lignano, between Venice and Trieste, it came over quite dark while we were warming up for the race, late in the afternoon. You could tell it would be a biggie. We were called to the Call Room early. Call Room is where they hold you immediately before the race, check your shoes, put your track suit and other kit in a box, etc. You’d normally expect to be there for about ten minutes, then be led out on to the track, introduced to the crowd and finally, race.
The Call Room at the European Masters Games comprised a connected pair of small, basic tent-like things with a table for the officials and their computer, plus a couple of wooden benches, and a stack of plastic boxes. Usually very adequate as a pre-race holding area. As we got there, the heavens opened. And I do mean opened. Thunder and lightning, the lot. Suddenly the Call Room became home not only to a group of rapidly cooling down athletes, but a bevy of officials, and some quite worried looking young kids, who were the volunteers who ferried the athletes’ kit to the race finish/media area. Assuming that the weather would pass quickly, the officials asked us to get ready to race. Peering outside, we declined. It was getting cool enough with track suits on!
There followed a deluge, with rain running through the tents, dripping in through the canvas and on to the flourescent tubes rigged up inside. Unfortunately, the race officials maintained an almost religious belief that at any moment, they would get word by walkie-talkie to take us poor victims out on to the track. But no. The storm raged, and we waited. And waited. Lycra race gear is not what you want to be wearing at a time like this. It has the insulating quality of tissue paper. We could, had we been permitted, have made a run for nearby stadium buildings, and shelter, but like the boy on the burning deck, the officials doggedly held their post. For us athletes, breach of Call Room is a disqualification offence, so we were stuck. For fifty – yes 50- minutes.
Like all thunderstorms, this one eventually rolled away, leaving a totally drenched track, and a group of now pretty chilled athletes. We assumed we’d be given the opportunity to warm up again, and our race delayed. But read on. We were instructed to get ready. Athletes for the next race were already arriving at the Call Room. So, out we were marched, in vest and shorts, for our race. Individual preparation rituals began. Soon we’d be doing what we’re best at.
Starting blocks set and adjusted, some last preliminary strides etc, then we heard “Sorry gentlemen, but there will be a twenty minute delay while the technicians mend the photo-finish equipment”. We could hardly believe it. We jogged the 150 metres or so back to the Call Room, but found it already full with the next group of athletes, and our kit already moved to the finish zone. Our only option was to spend the time jogging about (in race gear) and hoping the rain, now little more than fine drizzle, stayed away.
I can’t recall when I last raced off, effectively, no warm up. I am pleased with my time. I was beaten by three better guys on the day, and by one of these, only just. But after such a show of determination, verging on pig-headedness and insensitivity, by the track officials, the race hardly mattered. We felt we hardly mattered either. Proper procedures had, after all, been followed thoughout. “Nos perituri mortem salutamus” I think the gladiators in Rome used to say.