Published on July 25th, 2012 | by TAY0
TAY’s top 5 Olympics Moments – 5 & 4
No. 5 – Brits’ 4x100m Relay win at Athens 2004
It’s rare, at least in recent memory, that British track and field makes you knee the underside of the dining room table with unrestrained excitement as you are having your tea, least of all in the 4x100m sprint relay.
But in Athens 2004, the GB team consisting of Jason Gardener, Darren Campbell, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis beat the Americans, who had won 15 of the last 16 finals they had competed in, by 0.01 of a second.
The Brits were on course to being the first men’s GB team in 108 years not to return with at least a medal – and having dropped the baton in the previous two games it would have been a relief that they would even get that right this time.
But despite the fact that none of these sprinters had made the individual 100m final, the first such occurrence since 1976, they ran a blinder; perhaps fuelled by anger at the criticism hurled their way – it did not matter.
For 38.06 seconds a collection of British track and field athletes actually broke free from the shackles of burden, outdoing themselves. The Americans couldn’t quite believe it; neither could we.
No. 4 – Glorious failure – Derek Redmond and Eric Moussambani
As much as we like to think of it as fluffy and inclusive, the Olympics is an elitist event, make no bones about it – a stage for those gifted athletes who have honed their talents with relentless, brutal training. Further, an event which, really, only recognise its top three exponents at any given time (some athletes would argue only one). The draconian separatism of podium and non-podium makes no concession to match fitness, sportsmanship, morality, or even endeavour in and of itself. Here, fourth place in the world – an exalted achievement in any other walk of life – is only thought of in relation to the medal winners; a so-close-yet-so-far, gallant loser or so-close-yet-so-far. As us Brits know all too well (Dean Macey, Paula Radcliffe in the 10,000 in Sydney 2000 etc etc) – at least until Beijing’s impressive showing. (Or maybe that’s just my old man’s well-worn fandom coming through). Gold will win you global glory, multimillion-pound sportswear contracts, probably even a film; Silver, some national TV punditry; Bronze, at least a cereal contract; 5th place is positively obscurity.
That said, the Olympics is not just some grotesque allegory for the corporate world. Far from it. Of course, it is inherently cutthroat for the athletes, but the end (for at least, 99% I’d venture) is a glorious vindication of all their hard-earned work, played out through a medium which is intrinsically meritocratic and where the only losers are those who have to be prepared for it. Everyone else is enthralled, even inspired by the skill and determination of the Herculean feats. And all this is underpinned (or at least should be) by, if not friendship, deep respect for the endeavour of the competitors and consequent sportsmanship, borne out of a sense that, though everyone wants to win, there is noble pursuit of something greater at stake – a triumph of the human spirit.
Nowhere is this more evident than in this joint pick: Derek Redmond and Eric the Eel. Derek Redmond was in blistering form going into the final of the 400m Final at the Barcelona 1992 Games. He started strongly, but halfway down the back straight said he heard a shot from the crowd, which milliseconds later he realised was his hamstring, tragically, going. As all his competitors (rightly) sprinted on, Redmond knelt down in agony. But then – undeterred – heroically hobbled on round the bend, one armed on the stricken leg and his faced etched with pain. Coming onto the home straight – with all the other athletes long finished – his dad ran on, brushing aside the protesting official to give his son the physical and emotional support to limp over the line…to the standing ovation of nearly all the crowd. Redmond’s disqualification paled into insignificance; if anything a validation of this incredible act.
Equitorial Guinea is not exactly renowned for being a powerhouse in Olympic swimming. As such, no one paid Eric Moussambani, then 22, much attention when he lined up in a preliminary heat of the 100m Freestyle at Athens 2004, clad in just swimming trunks (aerodynamic swimsuits evidently hadn’t reached the third world), alongside Niger’s Karim Bare and Tajikistan’s Farkhod Oripov. However, things got a lot more interesting when the other two false-started, leaving Eric puzzled as to the next course of action – which was, of course, to run it with just him. He started off reasonably, with a competent dive and inauspicious start, but it soon transpired that he was rubbish, at least by the technical standards of competitive swimming – moving limbs in a quick and co-ordinated manner in water. He clocked in with a time of 1:52.72 – more than twice standard Olympic time, and probably slower than you or I could manage; certainly slower than Ian Thorpe did twice the distance. Everyone, however, loves a trier. And all those in the stadium, after initial laughs, warmed to this plucky lad, raising the roof to get him home in the final length (the BBC commentator was questioning whether he could make it) . Pundits, like sponsors cashing in on this incredible story, labelled him ‘Eric the Eel’, and revealed he had only been swimming about 8 months and that there was no Olympic-sized swimming pool in his native Equitorial Guinea, which meant often braved the shark-ridden Atlantic Ocean to train – transforming him from plucky (but rubbish) underdog to a kind of strange embodiment of the Olympic spirit.
(As a postscript, Eric toured Europe flushed with glory and a relatively lucrative Speedo contract, and set his sights on proving, at Athens 2004, that he was more than just a novelty act. Sadly, however, documentation suspiciously ‘lost’ by the country’s despotic government prevented him from earning a visa to either train at the University of Wisconsin or compete in Athens. He has, though, achieved a respectable 100m time of 57 seconds (very respectable considering his plight), and is now the national swimming coach of Equitorial Guinea. So a kind of happy ending.)
Both may not have returned home with a medal – but, arguably, with far more.
Check back with TAY tomorrow from 4pm for the three best Olympic moments