Dan Walker’s Twitter feed @danwalkerbbc and Blog post on this very subject set me thinking. As an athletics nut who jumped around and threw things whilst in his youth and who went to the opening of the Barcelona Olympic stadium on spec I thought who would I pick?
Easy – Steve Ovett, Jan “the man” Železný and Haile Gebrselassie.
You’re either a Seb coe man or a Steve Ovett man – I’m proudly the latter. Coe might have set an awesome 800m world record (I rejoiced when Wilson Kipketer beat it – twice!) and beaten my man in the Moscow 150mm final but Ovett was the better man and the better racer. In my view he reached his pinnacle in a 2mile race at Crystal Palace – I forget the year – but it was against Henry Rono – and Rono had just broken 3 world records in 10 days and was bang on form! As was often his style Ovett sat on the shoulder of Rono throughout the race – it didn’t seem to matter whether Rono ran slow bends and fast straights or fast bends and slow straights or just ran fast, Ovett stuck to his shoulder and gloriously kicked for home with 200m to go. He won, and set a new world record which also took decades to be beaten. Had he run to his full potential that day it might still be the record.
He also used to wave to the crowd (or whoever) as he came down the finishing straight – something which many took to be arrogance but in one glorious evening when he did this and was caught on the line by a faster finishing John Tracey his response was to smile and congratulate Tracey. Many thought he had had his come-uppance but it later emerged that he was waving, as he had said he would to a young boy lying in a hospital bed. That was the measure of the man – he has to be my all-time sporting hero.
As a kid I was always throwing stones around – and yes occasionally it did get me into trouble! So it was no surprise that at school I enjoyed throwing the javelin. I loved it as the event was over pretty quickly and I could sit back and watch the real athletes perform!! That said I did manage to become Plymouth Schools champion in the event. My love of athletics and the javelin caused me to give up cricket for 30 years. I was selected to represent my school at the javelin for both the junior and senior teams one summer. I went to see the master in charge of the colts cricket team and asked to be excused so I could go to the athletics meet and he said no. I never went to another cricket practice again- I played in the matches when selected and at the end of the year gave up cricket – I was the teams’ opening bowler at the time – I even took 7-22 including 4 wickets in 4 balls against Okehampton Grammar School.
I never met Železný but I did meet Steve Backley, in Barcelona at the opening of the stadium. What a nice chap and on meeting him I realised why I would never be world class – he’s just huge! I have chosen Železný over Backley because Jan was simple “the man” – beating Backley in the Olmypics with the final throw of the competition and beating Backley’s just set Olympic record as well. The ultimate competitor and so unauthorodox as his technique usually ended up with him flat on the ground!
Haile Gebrselassie has been awesome – sure his records may be overtaken but his record will stand for many years – as will the use he has put his skill to – helping the people of Ethiopia financially and no doubt politically. Just watching him float over the track, barely straining as his followers fell by the wayside and then after finishing the broadest and most infectious smile you could ever imagine. I never got to see him compete, it was an objective of mine to see him run at the Bislett games – in the old stadium – where the crowd bangs on the advertising hoarding beside the track – in time with the leading runners stride.
Am I looking forward to the 2012 Olympics – god yes! I just hope I can get tickets to some good track finals – the only thing that might beat that would be scoring in front of the Kop, and sadly at my age that’s unlikely.