Friday, November 14, 2008

Sports [Personality] 2008: Out of Africa - PHil West

November means factories stopping production, farmers neglecting their crops and animals, and Apple executives wondering why teenagers have stopped downloading music.

Why? Because everyone is swept along by the maelstrom surrounding who will be this year’s Sports Personality. Not.

For my choice we need to agree on some ground rules.

1) Drop the ‘personality’ tag. (Davies, Mansell, Hill, H.R.H).

My candidate is shy, quiet, and unknown to all but a few.

2) Accept that we Brits treasure glorious failure as much as glorious success. (Rusedski, Gascoigne)

My candidate had a ‘failure’ to die for.

3) Athletics is the greatest sport on the planet. (OK, this may prove difficult for those who like show-jumpinzzzz… - my apologies to both of them.)

My candidate is an athlete named Elvan Abeylegesse.

Born in Ethiopia, as a teenager she was overlooked by their talent scouts and so came to live and train in Istanbul. The Turkish press were initially more interested in the now disgraced Süreyha Ayhan, but she trained hard and became a serious contender at all the distances from 1500m to 10,000m.

Like David Bedford, she is capable of world records alone, but uncomfortable when running in the pack. Like him she tries to wear the opposition down, hoping not to be outsprinted at the death.

Bedford had his Lasse Viren, Elvan has Tirunesh Dibaba.

Dibaba beat her in the 2007 World 10,000 m final in Osaka, taking four seconds out of her in the last lap. Coming into the Olympic final an even stronger Dibaba was waiting, along with an array of track stars.

What followed was one of the bravest 10,000 m races ever.

They set off at a cracking pace and, despite the heat and humidity, six kilometres was reached in 18:12 with each kilometre run faster than 3:04. Six athletes were left in contention.

Elvan had to do something to break Dibaba, but off a pace that was already faster than the Olympic Record, what?

The answer was to run the seventh kilometre in an energy-sapping 2:57, the eighth and the ninth in a staggering 2:54 and 2:55. Every athlete in the group bar one (guess who) was blown away.

I swear I ran every step of those three kilometres; felt the burning in the lungs, the lactic in the legs; the sweat pouring down her face to form dark stains on her vest. I was entranced as she desperately tried to break the one last woman who could deprive her of gold.

Unbelievably, she then ran the last kilometre in 2:50. Dibaba somehow held it together and again went past her on the final lap to clock a simply impossible 2:46. The gap was less than two seconds.

Both women broke 30 minutes, more than 20 seconds faster than the Olympic Record.

Elvan couldn’t even find a Turkish flag to parade on her lap of honour. Turkey’s first silver on the track. They had that little faith.

Your votes, please, for Elvan Abeylegesse.

9 comments:

MotM said...

There are many times on Big Blogger when I have read the shortlisted pieces and wondered how my own did not make the cut. You must have read mine (Blogger A) and wondered exactly that, as this is, in every sense, better than my Bolt one.

I look forward to future pieces Phil and wish you good luck.

bluedaddy said...

Absolutely second every word mouth. Outstanding piece, and the best I have read so far by some measure. what was GU thinking?

philwest said...

Thanks for the kind comments!
One reason for my failure (amongst many I dare say) is that the original had links attatched. We have no Youtube here in Turkey (currently banned) and so I tried to find other links which were a bit rushed and probably a bit gratuitous.
I have decided to leave links to the experts and just write!
BTW MOTM, I liked your piece, but the gangly kid thing was irritating. Still, Emile Zola used to death the phrase "the drowned man" in Therese Raquin and it did him no harm! :))

MotM said...

Phil - Zola and me. I like it!!

bluedaddy said...

The links would have helped but it stands up without them. I really like the opening joke, but maybe the section on SPOTY criteria weakens the piece. You make a good case for your girl so there's no need to question why others have failed/succeeded in the past.

Still a great piece though.

offsideintahiti said...

Agreed, excellent piece and very good choice of story, which I missed completely at the time. (Then again, I missed most of the Beijing athletics due to the preposterous time difference with Tahiti, but I enjoyed the swimming, Alain Bernard is my sports personality of the year and it's got nothing to do with the fact that he trains in my hometown or my taste for digressions).

Where was I? Oh yes, more please Phil. You do know that this site is open and welcomes submissions during the 48 weeks of the year when Big Blogger is not on? Plenty of advantages too: no brief to stick to, no wordcount limit, no competitiveness, no voting, discerning readership, loose editorial ethics, free pints of Off-topic, etc...

Did you know Émile Zola was known as MouthoftheSeine in his blogging days?

greengrass said...

A very good read, Phil - and a well-plodden* case.
We need more like you on here!
Why the ban on Youtube? I thought the Turkish authorities had lightened up?

gg

*Spot the deliberate mistake!

philwest said...

You probably Know that Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, is a national hero here. When you add up the pros and the cons he deserves his place. Read the book by Lord Kinross for further details.
Anyway - there are videos on Youtube that claim he was all sorts of things, and in order to "protect" Turkish youth etc etc.
It's really pathetic, but there's sweet Fanny Anne we can do about it.

greengrass said...

Phil,
I know that many Turks are proud of Ataturk (and nervous about de-secularisation).
But banning Youtube on account of critical or scurrilous clips seems a bit over-the-top.
I'm sure, for instance, that Turkish youths can find sheep without consulting Youtube.

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