The sports desk is this week wracked with crises, some existential, others very, er, stential. Firstly, what is a sports desk without a desk, or even the damn internet? An interesting question. If a marathon happened in a city and nobody was there to write about it, would it really have happened? Don’t answer – that was rhetorical, so we’ll soldier on to point number two.
What happens when said sports desk has developed the worrying tendency of referring to itself in the first person plural? It, I, gets confused mostly. We, I, am currently reaching a bipolar existence not seen since the last days of Michael Vaughan’s England cricket captaincy or the day to day existence of football’s favourite narcissist, Zlatan Ibrahimovich. As he would no doubt say, “the sports desk is great because I am the sports desk.” Zlatan is, of course, utterly mental though, so has excuses, and his egotism knows fewer bounds than a Lothar Mattheus-shaped mirror. It only leads me to worry about myselves. I think we may be losing it.
It is of little consequence which part of my addled brain made the decision not to make it to watch the Berlin Marathon. A, what Hunter Thompson would describe as heroic, dosage of Hennessy’s second-finest cognac (the best – the one that somehow survived Nazi occupation – is not actually that much better anyway) had made the decision all that easier not to venture out at an ungodly hour in the pissing rain to watch the finest road race in the world. And I don’t mean the fancy dress part. Sure, it’s an achievement to run 26 odd miles at any time, but the sports desk doesn’t do fun runs. Fun shouldn’t come into sport.
Sport should be about blood, sweat, the suspicion of illegal pharmaceuticals and grown ups weeping like a lost child watching Camille over and over again. The sort of things you normally see on Kottbusser Damm at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning, not an estate agent in Bernie Clifton-style comedy ostrich suit raising “a hell of a lot of money for charity”. Nobody remembers who won the most famous race on British TV’s Superstars, just that Kevin Keegan got back on his bike, gritted his teeth and finished with no skin left on his back. This is what matters.
The great Haile Gebrselassie copped out of it too, preferring to save himself for November’s New York marathon. This is what we call a massive shame. His unique style – which came about by running the 20 miles to school every day with his books under his arm – and searing pace which set the world record here last year are almost tailor-made for the fastest course in world marathons. The flat streets of the city mixing with the usually amenable September weather make it perfect. But his record remains.
Kenya’s Patrick Makau ran the distance in about two hours and five minutes – coming in only two seconds before his compatriot Geoffrey Mutai, just a minute over Gebrselassie’s record, but pretty damn quick all the same. It works out at over 12 miles an hour. James Brown style. I’ll say it again, that’s 12 miles an hour. Faster than that clocked by a squirrel in full flow and even more incredibly just over a quarter of a Thompson’s gazelle. Unfortunately animals are rarely tested over the distances required without some heavy bookie investment, and Thompson’s gazelles are notoriously bad sports. They weren’t named after Daley presumably. Or Hunter for that matter – a man who opted to stay in bed rather than watch the Rumble in the Jungle because he was so certain that Ali would get demolished.
So, cynical asides aside we (I) doff my (our) cap(s) to Patrick and Geoffrey, to Aberu Kebede who came in a minute ahead of fellow Ethiopean Bezunesh Bekele to win the women’s race, Masazumi Soejima and Wakako Tsuchida in their respective wheelchair races (Soejima came in at 1.28 – now that is fast) and to Ursula Schwaller, the Swiss who won the women’s hand cranked wheelchair race.
The hand cranked race itself is new to me. A total enigma, but the home-country heroes made this one worth getting out of bed for. Germans Vico Merklein and Bernd Jeffre led the whole thing from the start, wheel to wheel to come in together at 1.09. Merklein was left paraplegic after a motorbike crash the day before his 20th birthday. He rides up to 200km a day in training and already holds the marathon world record. Jeffre only bought his first racing handbike six years ago. Then they did that on a Sunday morning when I couldn’t even be arsed to get out of bed. Fuck the split personalities, these guys have a singularity of mind that the sports desk is astonished by. All of I.