Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I've been watching this clip all day. I can't stop staring at the power of sheer determination and grit.

The clip is of the last lap of the 10 K in the Sydney Olympics. It shows an epic battle between Kenyan Paul Tergat in a red shirt with black shorts, and Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie in a green shirt and red shorts. With a lap left to go, Tergat finds himself boxed in and realized he has to make a move to the outside. A hundred meters later, a hole opens to his right and he blasts through it. Coming from so far outside and and blowing past everyone, he's striding and feeling confident he may have gotten a surprise jump on the front runners. Gebrselassie, then in second place, catches him in his periphery, and realizing the danger of letting him go, unblinkingly follows, leaving the current leader behind.

At 1:35, you can watch him turn to look at Tergat, then, as if knowing what was ahead, looking down at his legs and demanding that they give everything they have now. He begins to sprint all out to keep up with Tergat, who's increaing separation. They're still hopelessly far away yet they find themselves at top speed. Keep in mind these are the last 300 meters of a 10,000 meter race. Being passed is a psychological letdown in distance running that's proportional to the difference in speed between you and the guy burning you. It's hard to stay focused or not lose heart. That makes Gebrselassie's immediate reaction initially admirable. But watch closer. For the first two hundred yards of that sprint, he makes up no ground on Tergat. In fact, Tergat increases his lead. But Gebrselassie doesn't stop. He holds that pace because he knows, deep in his lungs, that he will do whatever it takes to hold this pace - his maximum effort. And he knows that Tergat, at some moment before the finish, will slow.

As they round the last bend, even the paraplegics in the crowd are on their feet. No vocal chord stilled. The mass gets louder and louder as the legs of the two runners get heavier and heavier, but they keep going, seemingly pushed by the very shockwave of sound the fans are creating. With 50 meters left Gebrselassie pulls even with Tergat and they begin their test of wills, measured side by side, stride for stride. As you watch the last hundred meters, notice how the announcer hasn't stopped talking but aside from slight feedback his voice has been overrun by the unbelieving mob. The cheers seem to peak the moment when, 10 meters from the finish line, Gebrselassie pulls slightly ahead of Tergat, but then defy their own logic and find one more level of volume as both runners cross the line, Tergat bowing his head slightly at the finish either in one last gasp for victory or a reverent pose of concession toward his competitor.

Gebrselassie wins the gold by 9 hundreths of a second. By .09s. The 10K. Pause it at 6:01 to see how close the finish was. There's a different angle that begins at 4:20 with Tergat making his move, and shows them on the final kick stride for stride until Tergat's feet slacken just a hair and Haile pushes that much harder. Tergat's face after the race is a mixture of incredulity and abject defeat. As soon as I stopped rewinding it I went and immediately worked out, hard. Unless you're dead to the world and its constant struggles, I guarantee your reaction will be the same.


dusty.rhodes said...

That's jaw-dropping.

Good to have your posts back, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Nice clip, I had forgotten about that race. Haile has said he plans to break Tergat's marathon WR in Berlin this fall.

As my fall series will consist of the Park to Park 10m and Denver Half Marathon this year, I've been enjoying these two Alan Webb clips as motivation. The gear he kicks into when the French guy passes him in this first one is great:

Then American record mile in what appears to be a completely rinky dink meet (complete with high school AV club announcer) shows an impressive focus of mind:

Osaka should be fun to watch next week (when I'm not fending off litigation).


Anonymous said...

Mmmm...I am not sure if this was Gabreselassie's race. Depending on how you defie a win. If you believe in what they say "it doesn't matter what you do as long as you win", then we are not on thesame page. To me, an athletic hero is a measure of one's prowess, one's power, endurance, tactic, and plan.
Ok, watch this clip more keenly. Pause as many times as possible and see if you can figure out this logic.
Gabresellasie and group had a plan, atleast that's what I and more observers noticed. Watch the look on their faces during the last lap. Assefa was always staying on the outside lane, making sure he stays shoulder to shoulder with Tergat at the last two laps, because they knew that's the time Tergat makes his moves. Assefa's plan was to keep tergat from winning by blocking him on the inside lane. Now in such a situation, even Professional athlete has no option but to go with the pace of the whole group, or slow down.. let the guy on the right to move ahead, therefore opening some space to overtake. Next move is to get out to the overtaking lane, then cruise. All this time, remember this is a 10,000 race, remember you are loosing speed when you left the others to move ahead of you, and remember you are approaching the finishth of the race.
But Tergat was able to pull and surge past all of them. But he head lost power, which was very crucial when he slowed down.
Now Gabre on noticing this, he also started following him. Gabre hadn't lost his speed, he was fresh, therefore being an experienced athlete as he is, he was able to close the gap and win by a 9th of a second.

I have looked at this clip more than 100 times, I have watched this video more than 100 times, and believe me, it's true.
If you look at the communication between Gabreselassie and Assefa during this race, and watch when Assefa surges when he noticed that they were approaching 150 meter mark, which is a distance where anybody can surge. Watch it and watch it and watch it.
Just looking with layman eyes, you can see a great win by Gabre and Assefa during this race, you can get very motivated by him by watching this race, but to me, a win is only a win if get rewarded for what you deserve fairly. That's what I call a clean win.
Tergat is not my hero either, but I think this was his race.

sometallskinnykid said...

Anon dude-

You are totally discounting the fact that this was a team race for both the Ethopians (Gab + Asse) and the Kenyans (Tergat + the other 2 dudes who names escape me).

Both of these "teams" had strategies in which Ethopia wanted Geb to win and Kenya Tergat to win. That was pretty much ordered, I assume.

And really the Ethopians are in better position later in the race. They are down a man 2 v. 3. And they are running in the 2nd + 3rd position. The ideal for them.

But in the end, when you can run a 25 second last 200 after (geb can, and probably tergat too), that is a pretty good position to be in. Definitely these are not great individual performances as their teammates helped out the whole way.

But they are running a 10k in 27 minutes and can end that fast. It is still impressive, track is more of a team sport in the long distances then we might want to believe.

It is fun to watch that end though