Story of the Year (Track & Field)

posted by The Track & Field Superblog
Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 10:19am EST

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The story of the year for track and field in 2012 can best be summed up by the following picture.

It is not that Mo Farah won the Olympic 5000 meters or even that he won an Olympic double (also taking the 10,000 meters). It’s related to the unusual feature of that finish photograph.

From The Telegraph:

The International Association of Athletics Federations on Saturday released a copy of the photo-finish which shows clearly how the noise was so intense that it caused interference with the equipment supplied by the official time-keeper, Omega, turning the lane markings into wavy lines.

Such distortion is believed to be unprecedented at an athletics meeting and it meant that Omega had to use a photo image taken from another camera placed on the in-field as a back-up.

Researchers have estimated that noises levels rose as high as 140 decibels inside the stadium for the 5,000m final — the equivalent of a jet aeroplane taking off and 10 decibels higher than the pain threshold for the average person.

It has been suggested that those 140 decibels are the loudest any crowd has ever been at a sporting event.


I’ve never experienced anything like it in my entire career, and I don’t think I will experience anything like it again.


With each lap it was getting louder and louder and everyone else in the race I’ve talked to said they couldn’t believe how loud it was. Bernard Lagat said he knew when I was getting close to the front because of the noise. It was just overwhelming.

The sportswriters at the Olympics, this or any other, are the most-traveled in the world and have been to all the biggest events anywhere. All said the noise was the most deafening they’d ever experienced.

This particular noise and this particular race is not the real story of 2012, either, but it best summarized that story. The story is that at the Games of the XXX Olympiad, athletics came back to its ancestral home to a hero’s welcome.

Track and Field News editor Garry Hill:

What made London stand out for me was that despite being hustly, bustly, commercialized and outlandishly priced, it still felt like a real track meet.

I’m guessing that if Britain doesn’t have more fans of the sport per capita than any other nation, it’s right up there. That translated to an unbelievably raucous stadium. And not just in the evenings, which we’ve seen before, but also 80,000-strong for the morning sessions. I can’t remember the last Games I was at (maybe Munich ’72?) where the stands were full in the morning not because somebody had bused in a horde of school kids or trucked over a contingent of military personnel.


They were there because they wanted to be there! And they paid good money for the privilege of so doing. And they created an unbelievable atmosphere. More than once it brought tears to my eyes just to see our sport and its athletes being worshiped so dearly.

Britons came for many reasons, some to see their own heroes. Farah topped off an unbelievable evening earlier in the Games, when the host nation won three gold medals within an hour. They came for Usain Bolt, the greatest showman our sport has ever seen. But mostly they came because they love track and field.

These Olympics were, in a word, British. The public were morose and worrisome about preparation, as is the traditional attitude for just about everything, but when push came to shove the country did a bang-up job. All the political fights about the Games were fought very publicly, another long British tradition, with the Olympic Stadium itself taking center stage. The opening ceremonies were so British, too. History, music, humor, royalty, more humor, James Bond. These closing ceremonies may have been the first to feature a performer singing the word “shit” (Eric Idle, one-upping fellow Python John Cleese, long proud of being the first person to say “shit” on the BBC). Seb Coe described the opening ceremonies as displaying a “quirky sense of humour, a love of eccentricity, a sense of fair play and the embracing of multiculturalism”–which also sounds an awful lot like the sport we love.

When it comes to sports, none are more British than track and field. Humans have always competed in running, jumping and throwing, but track and field as an organized sport was invented in England. Harold Abrahams’ central question in Chariots of Fire is “what does it means to be an Englishman?”, and so of course he pursues athletics and becomes an Olympic champion sprinter. Later in life he became an athletics journalist and the chairman of the Amateur Athletic Association, then the national governing body of track and field in England.

Track and field is the most international sport in the world and the United Kingdom is among the most multicultural nations on the planet. The derisive term “plastic Brit” used for athletes whose national affiliations changed as adults seemed to disappear once the competition began. (The ever-present political back-and-forth in the press did not disappear; The Daily Mail defended Tory attitudes as patriotism bringing everyone together for love of country, while The Independent reminded them of the ugliness common in anti-immigration attitudes. And of course, arguing politics in the press is raised to an art form in the UK.)

Three hundred and one years ago, writer Joseph Addison penned these words about London:

It gratifies my vanity to see such an assemblage of countrymen and foreigners consulting in the private business of mankind, making this metropolis a kind of emporium of the earth.

How ever did he know what track and field at the 2012 Olympics would be?

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