May the SA athletes give their best

2007-12-22 00:00

Throughout my two-and-a-half decades in South Africa, Christmas continues to be one of the most confusing times for this Sascot (South African of Scottish descent).

Even the brightest and warmest sun of South Africa’s summer cannot erase vivid memories of dark mornings, and even darker afternoons and evenings, when Christmas lights shone like beacons through translucent black skies that pre-empted the following morning’s frost-encrusted roads.

The three-week period around Christmas and New Year was an oasis of fun and joy amid the six depressing months of winter darkness that shroud the north of Britain. In the days leading up to the festive season snow was not only acceptable, but desirable. Few things compare to the crisp crunch of “footing” it through a good, heavy snowfall glistening under the street lights and reflecting the flash of tree-lights from house windows.

The conditions trigger the traditional memories of younger years: decorating the tree and the house; hanging the holly wreath on the door; placing the plate of shortbread and a glass of brandy for Santa and a plate of oatcakes to sustain Santa’s reindeers on their long journey; and finally, on Christmas Eve, hanging the longest and biggest school sock from your drawer on the fireplace in the hope that Santa would be tempted to lighten his sleigh at your


All of this was preceded by days and weeks consumed by detailed consideration and compilation of the wish list, under the guidance of mother and father. Was it not amazing how they always seemed so knowledgeable about what Santa would consider practical and reasonable or impractical and unnecessary? These were years when wishes frequently turned into reality, and although the fantasy has faded into reality, as with Pavlov’s dogs, the season consistently stimulates a similar response, and a desire to create a wish list. So should my list reach Santa in the North Pole, here are some running wishes for my 2007 stocking, and in keeping with the Scottish heritage of having short arms and long pockets, there are more than a few.

Santa, I wish:

•That Oscar Pistorius wins three gold medals in the Paralympics, but gives up on attempts to run in the Beijing Olympics now that the German sports science study has confirmed our beliefs that he has considerable advantage over able-bodied competitors. That after the Olympics the world is provided with the opportunity to see this stunning athlete compete against the 100-, 200- and 400-metre Olympic medal winners in a festival of running similar to watching Bryan Habana race against a cheetah.

•That South Africa’s top marathon men give their full focus and commitment to the Beijing event, run as a team, and that this becomes the first step towards London 2012.

•That at least a third athlete joins Poppy Mlambo and Tanith Maxwell in their ambitions to qualify for and compete in the Olympic marathon. For too many years talented SA women have been drafted into the ultras before reaching their potential in international marathons.

•That the older South African marathoners who step up to Comrades and Two Oceans return to the performance levels of the 1980s and ’90s, ahead of foreigners, to justify the vast amounts of prize money and incentives on offer, and that organisers provide new and exciting added value for the middle and back runners to validate the increase in entry fee for these runners who actually form the foundation and history of these races. (The top 10 may come and go, but it is the pack that creates the sustainability, humanity and lore of past, present and future).

•That athletes will complete all information on entry slips; these are not difficult questions. Supplying your first name and surname, age, sex, ID number, club, province and licence number, determines the results, and makes prize-giving quicker. It is amazing how many runners simply put Fred, Bheki or Narisha expecting every one else to know all their other details, even when they are potential prize-winners.

•That we make sure we know the rules before berating officials, who are only implementing the rules of the sport (as volunteers), so that we can run or compete.

•That there will be more sponsored clubs to provide greater competition between the athletes so that the elite will be spurred into achieving their true potential and that race prize money is no longer achievable with lack-lustre performances.

•That the progress in provincial selection is continued and evolved to produce year-round squads for short- and long-distance events that will take athletes to higher standards.

•That more suitably qualified club members will make themselves available as team managers with a focus on doing everything possible to assist the athletes without concern over their own achievement of becoming team managers.

•That magazines and personal trainers get up to date and cease their promotion of running myths that have long been disproved by research, recognising: that lactic acid is not a waste product but a by-product, and a source of energy; that training volume does not improve but destroys running efficiency; that runners don’t generally run heel to toe, but the majority land mid-foot or forefoot, with only a few needing anti-pronation shoes.

•That the most effective way to boost aerobic capacity is not through high mileage, but through high-intensity training

•That certain types of strength training can boost aerobic capacity and racing ability.

•That putting “time in the bank” in the first half of a race is a sure way to ensure a slower second half and a poor result, when even-effort is the most efficient pacing.

•That long, slow runs, and running in the fat-burning zone, aren’t efficient ways to lose weight. Short high-intensity and interval training is.

•That training will be safer: that drivers become more aware of runners; that runners are more generous to drivers; that women face less abuse on the roads.

•That racing is safer: that marshals and police are in position well before the race start time; that runners do not start by themselves when the organisers are trying to compensate for late marshals or authorities.

•That mine is not one of the licence numbers to fade away when put through the washing. This has been a country-wide problem with the 2008 numbers, and anyone experiencing this has been asked to return their numbers, which will be replaced by ASA.

•And a partridge in a pear tree — which may actually be easier than many of the above.

•Finally, that every runner, reader, and athletics fan has the most joyous of festive holidays, a happy and prosperous New Year with new personal bests and a stocking full of items from their own wish list.

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