I had agreed to meet Charlie and Bill at 8:15 to walk to the buses. There was never a question of Charlie or Bill advancing to the final rounds. Bill is a multi-world record holder and Charlie is the world record holder at 400 meters in age group M55-59. Both are many times world champions and both have been selected to the USATF Hall of Fame. I was surrounded by the best in masters track. It can be humbling to walk around a world track meet with either one of them since they are recognized and constantly stopped by other athletes. The humbling part occurs when I have to continually introduce myself to their fans. Next time I will describe to Bill and Charlie’s admirers the content of the erotic dreams. Maybe they will remember me that way? I felt good in the warm-up. I wasn’t feeling 100% but was appreciably better for having slept. The partial smile I wore was merely left over from the dreams and not illustrative of my true mood.
As I stared down the track moments before the race I felt I would be able to uncork a good run and advance to the final that would be run later in the day. The warm-up was thorough and I felt more alive than I had in the previous more troublesome days. I had drawn lane 2. On my right in lane 3 was none other than Alasdair Ross. He was beginning to feel a little like a shadow; an aloof shadow at that. On my left in lane 1 was a Polish runner with a determined and unsmiling countenance. When the gun sounded I drove low and hard from the blocks. Throughout the summer I had been using a personalized visual image to remain low and drive through the important start portion of the race. Staying low and driving through is a concept required for the best time you can run and I had taught myself to imagine I am pushing a stalled car with my head. Odd as it sounds, it had done wonders for my start and in fact it had helped me run very fast times in the early part of the summer. I had come to Riccione with the second fastest time in the world for 2006 at 100 meters. There is danger in this preoccupation with driving low. It is possible to slightly hang a spike or lose your balance in this precarious execution of technique. My drive out was excellent and the video shows I cleared the blocks earlier than the competition. Then as if I had not been doused with enough disaster for one trip, fate intervened once again. On the fifth step I drug a spike ever so slightly across the top of the track. It produced a stumble that sent one hand out before I quickly regrouped and maintained balance. It was over. Racing against the 16 fastest in the world allows no margin of error. Interestingly my time was actually faster than the day before but well below my ability. I ran the race through but I couldn’t make up the ground required to advance to the final. I watched from the infield as my friend Bill blew away the field in heat two with ease. I remain in awe of his amazing consistency in big meets.
Bill and Charlie would both race in the 100 finals at 3 pm. For me the interim time period was filled with eating lunch, conversation and luggage tracking. I made some progress with KLM by email. Our luggage was now showing on the KLM lost luggage section of their website as being in process. They have the proper bag tag numbers and the address of the Hotel Fedora is correct. Even if my race was a miserable failure, at least there is some hope on the luggage side of things.
For the 100 finals it is necessary to get a seat early. The final of the fastest race of the meet brings large crowds. At race time the stands are packed with athletes and fans, often dressed in the colors of their country, or wearing the track warm-ups with the countries name embroidered across the back. BEG busies herself with trying to get a photo of every different uniform she can see. The crowd is gearing up, giving off enough energy to power a couple of generators. As the various age groups begin racing an odd cultural collision occurs in the stands. I am the first victim. One of my training partners Cindy Steenbergen is racing in the W50-54 final. As the race develops I stand up to get a better view over the plexiglass barrier since I can’t see her at all. Once the race is over I am told a couple of guys behind me want my attention. The message the two young Italians, located one row up and several seats down have for me is to ‘remain seated.’ In painful English one tells me to stay seated in an openly hostile tone. It’s really not good timing to be messing with me, but his tone toward an elder is more the issue than his message. I tell him “#**%*&$^%&&” he can stand up as easy as I can stay seated. Hostility develops quickly. I wonder what that particular hand sign he just used means in Italian. This particular scene is repeated several times afterward between Italian fans and other American athletes in that area of the stands. I am witnessing and even participating in a bizarre clash of cultures. Italians apparently expect everyone to remain seated during an intensely exciting 100 meter race. Americans stand and cheer for their teammates without even thinking about the cultural implications. Each time there is spoken displeasure from the Italians and a return of fire from the American athletes. Each side needs a timeout. Maybe a separate set of stands separated by a plexiglass barrier? And of course maybe the need for plexiglass barriers at this particular stadium speaks volumes about true Italian comportment at sporting events?
Bill races to yet another World Championship in the finals roaring down the track in full control of the race from the gun. Charlie runs second to a fellow American. Both are happy and I am happy for them. It’s been a long day at the track and at around 6pm we all climb aboard the buses for the trip back to the apartment. My ears are itching. Not just that littly ‘itchy itchy what is that’ kind of feeling but more of an ‘I can’t stop scratching my ears, dang it’ kind of constant itching. I’m riding along with a bus load of people from all over the world. They stink quite honestly, but I assume I am also doing my part to flavor the buses ambiance. I’m standing up and holding the overhead rail with one hand while the other hand paws manically at both ears. It never occurred to me what small pesky infections might be crawling around on a buses hand railings. Unfortunately I was destined to find out.
Photo - Bill runs away from a world class group. Again.