It’s taken me a lifetime to learn to appreciate when the extraordinary is emerging from the everyday and is taking shape in front of me.
By 'everyday' I mean anything - from withstanding the racing squalls of sand blowing across a beach, to consuming something through broadcast media, packaged and presented via the myriad channels we consume with lazy complacency.
Today, I’m grateful that I recognised such an event.
It was my sister's idea to take me and my son to England’s second city to be present at an exhibition of some of the world’s greatest athletic talent. Let me say that again - the world’s greatest athletic talent. As I said, we consume these phrases with lazy complacency, but the world has seven billion people, that’s seven thousand million, and we were privileged to watch some of the fastest, highest and strongest, providing unpredictable moments of exultation.
One such moment came courtesy of a Swedish boy from America, Armand Gustav "Mondo" Duplantis. I say ‘boy’ though I’m sure he wouldn’t be happy with that label. Yet, weren’t the ancient Greeks that pitted their wits in the stadia and the hippodromes of Olympia mere children?
Mondo set out today to break a world record in the pole vault – one of the most beautiful events, requiring the athlete to propel himself 20 feet into the air using nothing but his own speed, strength, coordination and bravery. Oh ... and a bendy pole.
He didn’t manage it. We sighed. He was forlorn.
Like the ancient Romans, we had attended the ampitheatre and expected instant gratification, but our expectations were of a fellow human, and that's where we have something in common, we are, after all, only human.
Mondo, having driven his body to limits in gymnasia for innumerable months and years before, having measured and monitored his every action from sleep to sustenance, having countlessly visualised his flight through the still air of the arena, ultimately came up short. The uncompromising metrics showed that millimetres were to deny him a further step beyond what anyone had ever done before. That anyone, as the record books show it, being himself.
All this happened quickly and with relatively little announcement. Yes, thousands were present, announcements were made, music was belted out. But the reason for all of that, the fleeting moment of profound atheletic drama was equally missable yet set firmly in history. The explosive drive of this spritish athlete barrelling down the runway, the drama of the transition from horizontal to vertical, the moment of weightlessness and then the floated descent – carried every emotion from thrilling hope, through latent euphoria, to deflation.
Mondo had missed his world record attempt. We packed up our sandwich bags and drinks bottles, he packed up his kit and pole. We were together as humans after a long time apart – the joy in the sharing of the moment of encapsulated energy.
It didn’t matter that the numbers didn’t stack up.
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