Although a surprising number of media sports writers appear to be wilfully ignorant, the rest of us know that some results are predictable. In the rugby world cup there are only eight teams who have a chance of winning. It’s not hard to work out why, they are much better than the rest. That Japan beat South Africa in the last world cup was the exception that proves the rule. But it also reinforces our belief that miracles can happen. And it was a miracle that Joseph Parker needed to outbox Anthony Joshua in his recent world championship fight. What a year of (unquestioned) media promotions proved is that miracles can’t be bought.
Just as it was predictable that Parker would lose the fight against Joshua, so it was with New Zealand’s netball team at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. It has been evident for some time the team was past its best. The next Games maybe but this one, no chance. They tried but were beaten by better teams.
Yet Katrina Grant (captain) walked off the court, sweating, exhausted and emotionally fragile, knowing her best had not been good enough, she was greeted by Jenny May Clarkson, TV One Sports commentator, with this statement: “A lot of people back home are saying you have no pride in the black uniform, what do you say to that?” As intended, the captain crumpled. This despicably cruel interview was the low point of the Games for me.
There were many high points. The NZ women’s hockey team’s semi final win against England for one. Nil all at full time, the body language said it all; the English team were chatty, excited, delighted, the strain of preventing NZ from getting a goal was over, now they simply had to win by penalty shoot out, and against New Zealand they always won penalty shootouts. This history was not lost on the NZ team, of course.
They were not chatty, not excited, they were glum. But the crafty NZ coach chose that moment to replace the tired goalie with a new face and a fresh body. And until the last sneaky winning shot of the game, I was on the edge of my seat. That was sport at its best between two equal teams at their best.
I didn’t see England beat Australia in the gold medal netball game but I saw the hugely relieved and elated England team’s madcap celebration. That was fun, not for the Australians of course, but the result; England, Australia, Jamaica, makes for a healthy and exciting change in world netball ranking.
When teams celebrate wins with explosions of jubilation after tense, closely fought games, particularly women’s teams for some reason, like NZ after their semi final hockey game, England after the netball and NZ after the rugby 7s, it is a joy to behold. But I can’t say I like the screams of triumphalism from individuals. I can think of one wrestler and one boxer who kept roaring their heads off at the crowd after hearing the decision in their favour. I felt like saying, come on lads, a bit of restraint here, eh, but one of them was a girl.
I enjoyed the boxing for the most part but those idiotic American-type drawn out introductions of boxers make me squirm. I’m also not keen on the music that’s belted out or, and this did surprise me, the leniency given to punching the back of the head.
Normally I take no interest in walking races. They seem awkward to say the least. But this time I was riveted to both the men’s and women’s races. Probably because they were so competitive. The leader in the women’s 20k race was disqualified with only two kilometres to go. But it was a fair call.
Where distance is concerned, pace really is everything. Callum Hawkins, the Scottish runner who collapsed with two kilometres to go in the men’s 42 kilometre marathon was a sad illustration of this truth. He had been in the lead for so long and he looked so strong that nothing could be more predictable than a gold medal, until he showed signs of exhaustion.
Despite having to open tight water bottle tops with his teeth, (a silly, over cautious security decision by officials) he used plenty of water in the early and middle stages of the race, including wetting his hat. But at the last water station he did not take a drink. Then he threw away his hat. Then he veered from the middle of the road and ran a few steps in the gutter before straightening again. You could see he was no longer himself before his legs went to rubber and he staggered to the barrier to hold himself up. But he got to his feet and started running again at speed.
”Just jog!” I shouted at the TV screen, imploring him to take it easy, as I’m sure thousands of old runners were also shouting, hoping for a miracle finish. But he couldn’t hear us. He couldn’t hear anything. The sun, the heat and his pace had done for him. He collapsed again, banging his head a few times on the barrier and the road.
Perhaps he was telling people not to help him because assistance would have disqualified him. I hope that’s why none of the spectators made a move. One took a photo, really! As he lay there we all waited, interminably it seemed, for the first-aid people to arrive. Those were my most harrowing moments of the Games.
What Callum Hawkins said to himself after he recovered is anyone’s guess but I think I know what he will be thinking now. . . ‘Two minutes ahead was too much. I got carried away with the crowds. One minute would have done it, half a minute, a few seconds. I could have won. I should have remembered, pace is everything.’