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.