Olympic diary: Let's not forget to celebrate spirit of a Sundial Sprinter
21:35 GMT, 6 August 2012
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She is last over the line and the
first through the interview area afterwards. When I ask her to stop and
talk she glances over her shoulder and assumes there must be another
athlete behind her. A puzzled Martina Bibiana then turns back, points at
herself and asks: ‘You mean me’
The 100m hurdler does not receive many
interview requests. Bibiana is one of the 10,500 athletes who will pass
through London 2012 practically unnoticed by the wider world. She will
run, see four years of hard work and sacrifice fly by in one fleeting
moment, and the four-year cycle will begin again.
They always say it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts. Right now, however, her face tells another story.
The 100m hurdler crossed the line in what is recorded on the official printout as her ‘season’s best’.
But she tells me it’s her only recorded time this season and, in sprinting terms, it is light years behind the best.
Martina Bibiana: She was last but not least
Of the 46 runners that finish round
one, Bibiana ranks 46th. Her time is clocked at 16.18 seconds, nearly a
second and a half slower than the 45th best athlete and a full 3.24
seconds slower than Jess Ennis’s heptathlon hurdles mark.
In the time it took Bibiana to
complete her race, Usain Bolt could have run to the finish line and most
of the way back to the start again.
If we were to be cruel, her performance didn’t so much need a stopwatch as a sundial.
But Bibiana represents the Olympic
spirit we keep hearing about. She is the underdog seeking to improve and
to make her country proud in an increasingly commercial and rapacious
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She constitutes precisely one half of
Equatorial Guinea’s Olympic team here at the Games and carried her
country’s flag during the opening ceremony.
But her nation has no great tradition of success. Equatorial Guinea’s most famous athlete is Eric Moussambani Malonga, better known to you and me as Eric the Eel, the slowest swimmer at the Sydney Olympics. She avoids that level of infamy, but her frustration is obvious. ‘I’m not here as a joke or as a tourist,’ she insists. ‘My dream was to come and compete, but it’s very difficult.’
She laughs when I ask what facilities there are at home. ‘We have nothing. I train alone. There is a coach and they do the best they can, but they know nothing about the hurdles.
‘We are a small country. There is no money available to help sport. I hear that we are the Eldorado of Africa now and there is gold somewhere, but we don’t see it. I’d have to leave and train somewhere else for my time to improve.
‘That is why it is very important I am running in London. It is to show my country what we could be and tell people that we can win a medal if we try. Yes, this is over for now, but I’ll go home and start again.’
Under Olympic rules, every nation is allowed to enter one man and one woman in track and field events, regardless of qualifying times, with the exception of specific events such as the marathon, which requires a minimum standard.
Proud moment: Martina holds the national flag ass he leads her nation's contingent
If a country wishes to send more, it must reach the B standard at the very least. For the women’s 100m hurdles, for instance, Bibiana would have been more than three seconds outside the qualifying mark.
But the wildcard entrants provide many of the heart-warming events that live on as significant moments of Olympic history which can be just as inspiring as any podium finish.
Niger’s rower Hamadou Djibo Issaka finished his single scull heat more than a minute behind his nearest rival — and was roared home all the way both at Eton Dorney and in Africa, too.
His message was familiar: ‘There are many people who want to start rowing because I have come to the Olympics. We do it when I get back. We just have to wait for the boats to arrive.’
Magic moment: Hamadou Djibo Issaka at Eton Dorney
And Eric the Eel might have been a ‘joke’. But in March of this year he was appointed national swimming coach, tasked with the job of ensuring his country is no longer the punchline.
Back on the track, another hurdler trails in last in her heat. Lecabela Quaresma is from Sao Tome and Principe, an island off the coast of west Africa. The art student’s time is a distant 14.54sec, another ‘season’s best’.
But she is glowing because she was there. She tells me: ‘It doesn’t matter where I finish, my country is proud of me because I am running on the same track as athletes like Bolt. I even saw him in the Athletes’ Village.’ What did he say ‘Oh no, I didn’t speak to him — I was too scared! But I have a picture.’
We weigh our worth in gold, silver and bronze at the Olympics but, sometimes, a little piece of humanity has vastly more value.
NBC off beam
The Americans landed a spacecraft on Mars and immediately beamed back HD pictures from 154 million miles away. But NBC, who paid US$1.2 billion for exclusive Olympic TV rights in the US, did not broadcast live the 100m final from London. The event was shown six hours later. What planet are they on
Setting a terrible example: Gatlin
When Usain Bolt finally led Yohan Blake into their post-race press conference, the world’s fastest man was still mugging good-humouredly for the cameras while Blake sniggered at his jokes and generally played the role of Muttley to Bolt’s Dick Dastardly.
But the Wacky Races truly got under way with Justin Gatlin. The American won bronze in what can only be regarded as a moment of solemn shame for athletics.
Gatlin returned to the sport in 2010 after a four-year doping ban. Everyone, Bolt and Blake included, did their best not to pay him particular attention. Then an online writer asked the disgraced Gatlin if he had a message to inspire children.
Here’s what Gatlin wanted to tell the little kiddies: ‘Go for it. Be simple and honest,’ he said. ‘Go out and challenge yourself. To all the kids out there, I say go out and do what you gotta do.’
Yeah kids, ‘Go out and do what you gotta do’. Take drugs. Never show any remorse. And pick up an Olympic medal. That’s some inspirational message. We can only give thanks Gatlin failed to win athletics’ blue riband event.