1992:my first Paralympics, part IV

Eventually the first race came around. It was the 200m heats. My warm up was easy. I hobbled from the bus to the physio tent, where NB did everything for me. He firstly loosened up the muscles and warmed them up. Then, as I laid on my front, he made like he was pulling a pint of beer with my ankle, pressing his other hand into my hamstring at various points. After this he strapped me up. Self-adhesive bandages were applied from half way down my calf to the top of my butt cheek. A bit more stretching was followed by my instructions. I was to go into the warm up area and steadily walk around. If I really wanted to I could do a couple of light strides, but nothing more than that. I followed his instructions, but my heart sank when I tried to stride and found that I couldn’t get out of a jog without feeling like I was in the middle of a cramp attack. My nerves were under control, after all, I had other things to think of. My mind wasn’t full of the usual competitive urges, just a fear that I wouldn’t be able to run at all.

Despite not having the usual pre-race nerves because of my injury, I still needed the toilet as much as usual. That proved to be a bit of a problem. What with all the bandages and my figure hugging all-in-one lycra bodysuit, I was well and truly wrapped up, meaning that I have to perform Houdini-esque manoeuvres just to relieve myself. JW helped me out, literally, and at least his hands were warm and it took my mind off my injury for a while.

I kept on the move until we were called out onto the track. As we walked out I could sense the high stands crammed full of excited spectators, and I could hear the buzz of expectancy. The excitement levels were heightened, not by the sight of me or JW, but by the new Spanish wonder kid, ES who was also in my heat. But I couldn’t enjoy the moment as I was so concerned with my fitness.

That was the first time that JW had been under pressure to get the blocks sorted out quickly, and he found it stressful. Before we had time to sort ourselves out we were called to our marks. Shortly we were in the set position and waiting for the gun to sound. All my competitive urges were suddenly in place. My injury was at the back of my mind. The gun exploded, and JW and I blasted out of our blocks.

The noise was amazing. It was early in the morning and the stands were nearly full. I couldn’t hear a word JW was saying. A series of grunts were interpreted as his usual calls which told me we were about to enter the straight. It wasn’t until this time that my hamstring started to feel tight. However, once it started to feel tight it didn’t take long for it to almost seize up altogether. I staggered down the last 50 metres or so towards the line, almost unable to lift my injured leg. My start had been good enough to hold off all but one of the closing pack, including ES, and I was through to the semi-final. Much to my surprise, I had only been beaten by 0.12 secs and my time of 24.96 secs, a personal best at the time, was the fifth fastest time of the heats. I hobbled off the track and back to the physio tent. Not bad for one and a half legs I thought.

When the semi-final came around my routine was exactly the same, except this time I knew it would be fine once the adrenalin started to pump as I blasted out of the blocks, so I wasn’t too bothered when again I couldn’t do any warm up strides. However, although I ran a great bend again, it wasn’t enough to carry me through to the final when my leg tightened in the closing stages. I had finished sixth overall and considering the obstacles I had overcome I was quite satisfied with my performance. The final was won by CL of Portugal, JR of Spain finished second and DC of Australia finished third. I would have run ins with all three of these guys in the future, and several with both CL and JR.

I had a day’s rest before the 400m heats started and so my hamstring had a bit more time to heal. Again I let NB do my warm up for me. I was starting to get used to having to do nothing. If only I could find somebody to do the racing for me I would be sorted. I have previously described the pre-race nerves I had before 400m races, and these again surfaced mainly due to the fact that I was scared that my lack of condition would have serious consequences towards the latter stages of the race. JW tried to convince me that I’d be fine, but I didn’t believe him. As I had already been through the race procedure twice I was well aware that there was no area which was suitable for being sick. A plastic bag was found and strategically placed in my kit bag so that it was easy to find should the need arise. JW, never having made himself sick from running, insisted that I wouldn’t need it if only I concentrated hard enough.

As we set off I found it difficult to set the correct pace. I tried to settle on what felt like a fairly even pace, but as all I had done for a week was flat out sprinting I went off a bit too fast. After about 80m around the bend I eased off the pace and settled on what was probably the correct pace. I usually managed to tell how I was doing in the race by listening to the foot fall around me, but this was difficult due to the noise emanating from the crowded stands. By the time we were rounding the last bend the crowd had started to make lots of noise. It was so noisy that I couldn’t hear what JW was saying, never mind where my competitors were. All I knew was that he was making lots of noise and getting rather excited. The home straight was as usual agony. I was starting to pay for the fast early pace, and the lack of condition in my legs was starting to show. I summoned up every last bit of energy and struggled through to the line.

The noise from the crowd had started to diminish before I reached the finishing line, which didn’t fill me with confidence. I assumed that the winner had crossed the line a long time before I had. As I stood with my hands on my knees gasping for air, the clock at the finishing line burst into action. It was the usual type of clock, but it also spoke out the winning time. “55.54 seconds” it announced. A sinking feeling hit me. That was a fairly average time, and if that was the winning time mine must be terrible. “Who ran that?” I asked JW.
“You did” he replied. “You won it by a mile!” JW had struck again. No chance of him letting me take it easy and conserving energy. It was as if he was on a quest to kill me by the end of the champs. JW was so excited and wanted to show off. “Come on, let’s do a bit of a jog and wave to the crowd” he shouted excitedly. What planet was this guy on? When had I ever had enough energy to do anything apart from stagger to the edge of the track after a 400m? I could feel the volcano about to erupt in my stomach as well.

“Get me off the track” I managed to say between my gasps for air whilst I held out the guide rope.

“No, come on” he said as he grabbed the rope and held my arm in the air and tried dragging me along the track. Expletives shot out of my mouth and he eventually got the message.

It seemed to take an eternity to walk through the mixed zone, the area where the media hang out trying to get interviews and quotes, and into the changing room. JW sat me down and started to work the room, chatting to all the other guide runners in broken English and sign language, and that was just JW. I kept calling his name, but he wasn’t listening. Eventually he heard me when I shouted as loud as I could and he asked me what the matter was. I told him I needed the plastic bag. He had just managed to get it out when I started yodelling. A couple of minutes later I had finished my post-race routine. Whilst I approached the final throws of my performance a Colombian athlete had started shouting “champiole, champiole,” and had tried to grab me. His guide runner dragged him away from me. He was audibly concerned that he had done something wrong, and as his guide runner tried to explain to him why he had dragged me away JW took it on himself to grab the now partly full bag and hand it to the athlete as proof of what his guide runner was telling him. I can still picture it now as JW described it. The blind Colombian held the bag out and tried to judge its weight, before putting his hand under it to try and assess its contents. He then looked at his guide runner and asked what it was. His guide runner explained before both he and JW burst out laughing, leaving the athlete swearing loudly.

The semi-final of the 400m was a strange affair. I was drawn with a Cuban athlete, OP, who had a rather strange guiding technique. His technique was a revolutionary one…He didn’t have one. According to rumour he suffered from hysterical blindness, whatever that means. His guide runner ran about 5 metres behind him, allegedly shouting out instructions to him from that position. That may have worked in a quiet stadium, although I doubt it, but definitely not in a stadium packed with 60,000 shouting Spaniards. I couldn’t hear what JW was shouting whilst standing next to me, never mind if he stood 5 metres behind me. Apparently it was even better in the 800m, where he overtook athletes and returned to running next to the curb as if fully sighted. This guy turned out to be solely responsible for the authorities introducing blind folds or blacked out shades for B1 athletes to prevent cheating in all subsequent championships.

The race itself went very well until the last 60m. I was leading at that point, but then faded badly into third place. The time was very similar to that which I had ran in the heat, but not quite good enough on that occasion. But the most surprising fact was that I managed to keep down what little lunch I had managed to eat that day. CL of Portugal went on to win the final, OP of Cuba winning a controversial silver medal, with DC of Australia winning a second bronze medal.

I was supposed to run the 100m the following day, but it was also the day when the 4 x 400m heats were to be run. There were a couple of important decisions to be made regarding this event. Firstly, I had to decide along with the management whether or not I would compete In the 100m. Secondly, we had to finalise the makeup of the relay team, as our fastest runner, SB, had been struggling with a hamstring injury as well. I felt that although I may run well in the 100m I didn’t really stand a chance of winning a medal. However, if we managed to finish the 4 x 400m relay we would definitely win a medal, and there was a distinct possibility that we would win gold. If I was to run the 100m there was a possibility that I would make my hamstring worse, and that would mean that I would be out of the 400 relay for sure. As my Aussie competitors would say, it was a no brainer. My withdrawal from the 100m was signed by the team doctor on the grounds that it couldn’t stand up to a flat out blocks start. It was also noted that I should be able to stand up to a steadier start, which cleared the way for me to compete in the relay without suffering a sanction. The wording was vital, as withdrawing from an event without good reason usually results in withdrawal from the rest of the championships, and that was a consequence which I could not risk.

As it happened the 100m was a very good spectacle for the spectators. At that time 100m races for B1’s were run as a time trial, each athlete running individually against the clock. The main reason for this was so as to allow those athletes who didn’t have a guide runner to compete. As a rule, it was the athletes from the less developed countries who did not have guide runners, but the world record holder, SS, a Russian, also chose to run this way. I could never do it, but he was so brilliant at it that he never strayed out of his lane the whole way down. I put this brilliance down to a great deal of practice, but others more cynical than I commented that he ran as if he could see a bit. Interestingly, whilst SS was brilliant in the unguided 100m, he was less than impressive at the guided 200m and when all 100m races became guided-only races, he was less than impressive at that as well.

After all athletes had run once, the fastest 6 athletes got the chance to race again in the final. When the final came around two athletes, SS and MR of Spain, dead heated on the same time. If it had been a real race it would have been a thriller. The only way they could settle it was to have a run off with both athletes having another go. Dismaying everyone in the stadium they managed to run exactly the same time again – what are the chances??!! As no-one wanted to be there all night two gold medals were eventually handed out. My long term rival, JR of Spain won the bronze medal.
The stage was now clear for the 4×400 relay boys to do their thing

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