Another sports article on Racealking
- I aplogize if this article has already been submitted. Below is correspondence between the author and myself.
If it wasn't evident that I admired Jane Saville and her ability to do what she does, then I'll just have to get out of journalism alltogether -- but I'm pretty sure it was evident. I noted that Americans in general think of race-walking as silly, and on that count -- even if people are dead wrong about it -- I can safely say that I'm on solid ground.
You're right, of course, about the warning system, but that clearly wasn't my point. And I quoted Jane extensively about what a fine line the racers tread in trying to go as fast as possible without breaking the rules.
I found it an incredibly compelling human moment. I'm almost positive I did everything I could to convey that notion.
From: wtechnology@... [mailto:wtechnology@...]
Sent: Saturday, September 30, 2000 5:36 PM
It is disappointing that you would label a sport silly with limited knowledge of it. Jane Saville was not DQ'd 100 yards from the finish line, she was notified of her DQ status at that point. It is not unusual for a couple of minutes to lapse before the head judge is notified and the DQ board is updated. By that time Jane would have traveled more than 1/4 of a mile.
Jane knew she had 2 calls against her because the calls are posted on a board with the walkers number to inform them of their status. It was her decision to push the limit and perhaps suffer the fatal 3rd call.
The judges for this event are no less subjective than diving, figure skating, boxing, or any other sport requiring judges. These people have many years of experience on national and international levels. And 3 of these judges individually and without knowledge of the other judges calls determined Jane had broken the rules of racewalking.
Before taking up racewalking 18 years ago I was runner. I have completed the mile in under 5 minutes and 3 miles in less than 15. Though this is not a world class time today it was not bad 30 years ago. I can tell you than racewalking requires a discipline and technique that running does not. It is also less damaging to the body and provides better overall conditioning than running.
There are several racewalk groups in Sacramento that can be contacted for information on this sport. We host the national 50k here in Sacramento almost every year.
Mark Kreidler: How dreams are devastated in only a flash
(Published Sept. 29, 2000)
SYDNEY, Australia -- The most amazingly human thing happened here the other day, just the most agonizing, deeply human thing you can imagine.
A woman, an Australian, was leading her track race. She was going to win it. She was already fighting her emotions, in fact, trying not to get ahead of herself, because she was headed down the tunnel that leads into the mammoth Olympic Stadium, the one that would take her inside to all the people waiting to love her.
"It has been a dream of mine to go into that stadium first," said this woman, Jane Saville. "As I came down the tunnel, I was thinking, 'I can do this. I'm going to do it.' "
She was, she really was. She had worked four years toward this, and now this Jane Saville was going to play out the fantasy of about 19 million other Australians. She was going to be adored, long and loud, for doing something terrific.
And then, at that very moment, maybe 100 yards from the finish after more than 12 miles of work, it just ended. An official waved in the air a little red dot on the end of a stick. It meant that Saville was out of her race completely -- disqualified on a judgment call. She had to leave the course.
And this woman -- good gravy, this woman was just destroyed. She did exactly what you or I might do if we had our perfect dream of a moment taken away on a technicality.
She howled to no one in particular. She cried right then and there. She had barely controlled rage -- you could tell she wanted to throttle somebody, but the judging in her sport is subjective with no appeal. Most of all, she stood as a person fully engulfed by the sheer mass of her disbelief. The woman was flat numb.
Later, she was philosophical and almost unfathomably gracious, the way the Australian Olympic athletes generally seem to be. She found words to put to her grief, and she found perspective in that grief, and you could tell that, although she had been absolutely crushed, she would find a way, eventually, to want to go out and do it all over again.
"It was a dream," Saville said later. "I could hear the crowd in the tunnel, and my friends were at the finish line, and I would smile at them ... but it wasn't to be."
I almost hate to mention the fact that Jane Saville is a race-walker (you might have figured that, since I didn't bring it up until now). I say this because race-walking, in the pantheon of sports appreciated and admired by the American public, ranks somewhere south of the tea break during cricket. We basically consider it too silly to deal with.
But the underlying truth about the Olympics, and maybe the thing that saves this enormous enterprise from its almost mythical ability to impose self-inflicted wounds, is that there's a human being inside every story. Every story does not live in a blood sample or a statistical split.
That sounds so obvious as a point that it shouldn't need to be made. The thing is, it has never been more critical to the proceeding than it is right now. The Games are basically under siege, if one can be said to have laid siege to oneself, and the only thing that can rescue them is the athletes who play them.
If there is a trend in Olympic sports that is truly nauseating besides the part about the cheating, it is the constant shifting of focus away from what the athletes actually do. You watch NBC, for example, and you come away with a perfectly fine basic working knowledge of who some of these people are -- and an incredibly limited nightly exposure to what they accomplished, or failed to accomplish, while here in Sydney.
I could go on about Jane Saville's life story, about how much injury and pain the 25-year-old had to endure to even get to the Olympics -- about the fact that, contrary to the slight opinion many people hold of race-walkers because they look goofy doing it, Saville is a buff athlete who has competed in both iron-woman and Australian life-saving championships.
I could, but none of it would remotely compare to the single moment of seeing Saville react to the torching of her hopes on Thursday. It told you more about Saville, and about the Olympics, than any feature about her background possibly could.
Saville's race was broadcast live on Australian TV, which figures: If you're wearing Aussie green-and-gold this week, you're going live on television. Apparently it's the law. And Aussies in particular, and Europeans in general, are often drawn to events -- equestrian, archery, race-walking, boating -- that don't necessarily rake in the crowds back in the States.
But no one was prepared for what happened, not even people who understand race-walking.
To put it as briefly as possible, it is a sport in which the competitors do just about everything short of breaking into a jog. If they break into a jog, they earn one of those little red dots.
You get three red dots waved in your face during the course of a race, you are out -- and I mean out. You are asked to leave the course in the same way that a smoker would be removed from a California restaurant, which is to say, immediately.
And how you earn a red dot is by being perceived to have lifted your foot off the ground, with any step that you take. If the shoe completely leaves the pavement, you're on report. Of course, if you take it nice and easy, you finish dead last.
"There is a very fine line, and every time we walk there is the possibility we will be disqualified," Saville said later, explaining some of the technical aspects of this sport to reporters. That's the other thing she did on the day that her dream died, spent time politely explaining her sport.
"We are always pushing the limit, and I have finished so many races with two warnings," Saville said. "There is a fine line between being the greatest walker and being a nobody."
And it's a totally subjective line. They don't do instant replay in race-walking (stop me if this is a news flash to you); they just put some judges out there on the course and let 'em at it.
And these judges DQ people all the time: In Saville's 20-kilometer championship alone, five athletes got tossed, including the 1999 world champion from China and an Italian who won the silver medal at the Atlanta Olympics.
It sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? It sounds like something so odd that it couldn't possibly be riveting. But, in fact, it was just the opposite: In her incredibly human moment of defeat, Jane Saville drove home a reminder that it really is all about the athletes.
"I came into the tunnel and slowed down," Saville said, "and I saw the chief judge and he started touching his paddle, and I thought, 'No, no.' Then he had to check his number, and it was me."
She just fell apart, 100 yards from glory. She just felt everything that anybody could feel -- a boxer, a sprinter, a diver, a gymnast. It could have been something golden for Saville. In the strangest way, it was golden all in and of itself.
MARK KREIDLER can be reached at (916) 321-1149, write him at P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, 95852 or e-mail him at mkreidler@...
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