WOSTER: Spirit of competition shines through in track and fieldAll right, the basketball tournaments are over, the champions have been crowned, and we can turn to what’s really important in high school activities.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
All right, the basketball tournaments are over, the champions have been crowned, and we can turn to what’s really important in high school activities.
That’s track and field, for all you non-believers out there. I know it doesn’t always get the attention of the general public the way basketball and football do, but it gives a lot of school kids a chance to compete and the usually good feeling that goes with representing their school in that competition.
It’s an individual sport, but it’s the ultimate team sport. Three or four outstanding, even record-breaking, first-place finishes by a superstar for one team can be overcome by a bunch of fourth-and fifth-place showings by members of another team. A sprinter breaking the state record in an event he or she was expected to win might mean less in team points than some sophomore who picks the state meet as the right time to turn in a personal-best performance and capture the last medal place in the event — and perhaps the single additional point that moves his team from a tie into first place. It can happen. There are high-school teams in South Dakota that, year after year, rely on a whole bunch of mid-range finishes to overcome the superstars on other teams.
Don’t get me wrong. I love a dramatic finish and a record-setting performance as much as the next person. I still get choked up when I see footage of Billy Mills winning the Olympic 10,000-meter run back in the 1964 Games.
I recently read a sports piece that suggested South Dakota State University’s performance in qualifying both basketball teams for the NCAA tournament might be the biggest moment in South Dakota sports history. Well, I’m a Jackrabbit, for sure. No color combination in the world is better than yellow and blue. And I really like the basketball teams at SDSU. Still, Billy Mills rushing past the other best distance runners in the world on the biggest stage in track and field?
It may have been half a century ago, and I may have learned of his victory by watching the television in the lobby of old Harding Hall, but I remember it like it was this morning.
But I get choked up sometimes when a young woman or man running last in the region mile run breaks into a sprint at the top of the home stretch and wobbles, gasping for each breath, past the grandstand to the finish line, even if all the other competitors in that race have done a cool-down lap and begun to dress again in their team sweats.
I’m kind of a sucker for heart. I like talent and blazing speed, but heart is tough to beat.
Some of my favorite track moments have nothing to do with winning a race. They’re all about the human beings in the race.
Jim Ryun, one of America’s earliest world-class school-boy milers, was about as human as it gets in the 1972 Olympics. Everyone knew it was probably his last chance for a gold medal at the Games. No one knew it better than Ryun. Midway through the race, he was knocked off the track to the ground. He gave up for an instant. You could see it on the television screen.
He knew it was over, but he pushed himself up and began to run, his loose-jointed stride moving him to the finish line, even if it didn’t take him to his dream.
The 1968 Olympics, in Mexico City, introduced the world to John Stephen Akhwari, a marathoner for Tanzania. He was injured early in the race and finished long, long after the field. In fact, most of the spectators had left the stadium when the 30-year-old runner limped into sight. He did finish, and to this day, watching a clip of his final laps leaves me gasping for breath.
To understand what I mean about track, look up John Stephen Akhwari on the Internet and watch the clips. And think of it when you see the kids from your town and the neighboring towns bringing it home this track season. Whether they’re in front or trailing the pack, they’re competing. Celebrate that.