IAAF Championships Beijing

Beijing hosted the International Associations of Athletic Federations (IAAF) Track and Field Championships this past week. And as with the 2008 Summer Olympics they did a fantastic job. The Chinese are naturally great hosts.

As with the Olympics, there were blue skies. The government took half of the cars off the road each day using an even/odd number plate system. And they closed more than 1,000 factories and construction projects in Beijing and the surrounding area. The cynical will say that’s a little like cheating. The optimists, like me, will say that’s taking your responsibility to be a good host pretty seriously. Imagine how much tax revenue the government lost as a result of those moves?

My wife and I watched nightly. I don’t get to see many sporting events of global stature in real time. And track and field isn’t one of those areas of sport that requires a lot of commentary so the fact that I couldn’t understand the audible took nothing away from my enjoyment.

A few personal observations.

Usain BOLT of Jamaica is one of those rare boisterous athletes, like Muhammad Ali, that has the skill to back up the theatrics. He is a sprinting machine and it was a joy just to watch the perfection in his running mechanics.

Justin GATLIN of the United States was even more impressive but for different reasons. What an incredible personality. I don’t think I can recall an athlete that was more upbeat, positive and well-spoken than he is. He could have wallowed in his string of second place finishes but instead said with a genuine smile that it was a great honor to push Bolt to run a little faster.

My second observation concerned the female athletes. I’m sure there are still issues of gender-equity in the track and field world, but from my observation they got equal coverage here in China and they are obviously getting better training and support outside of the games themselves.

And as a father of two daughters (12 & 14) I was truly reassured that there is life beyond the Kardashians. When I visit the US I often worry that the superficiality of Hollywood and the fashion world are going to drain the life out of our young women and divert their attention from the things that really matter in life.

The female athletes that achieved their chance to come to Beijing reassured me. I’m sure this is politically incorrect but it shouldn’t be – and it’s my blog – so I will openly note that many of these female athletes – and many of the men – are very attractive.

The point is not how they look, however. The point is that they probably had the chance to take an easier path and they didn’t. They chose to take what has to be a very, very difficult path indeed. Because they yearned for it and I believe we owe them that choice.

My last observation is more of a question than an observation. Why do people decide to devote their life to the hammer throw – or the javelin – or even the triple jump? I have nothing against any of these events. These are very skilled athletes. But why these events?

I can’t believe there’s a lot of endorsement money in any of them and there is no professional hammer throw league anywhere in the world that I am aware of. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anyone wearing a tee shirt with the picture of Yuriy Sedykh on it. (He currently holds the World Record for the men’s hammer throw at a distance of 86.76 meters – the men’s hammer weighs 7.26 kg/16 pounds, remember.)

That’s very reassuring to me. After watching the first lap of what will surely seem like an endless US presidential campaign I was beginning to wonder if we hadn’t completely lost our humanity after all. Everybody’s in it for something – money, power, celebrity, you name it.

But the hammer throwers and the javelin throwers are in it for the sport, the chance to compete, the chance to excel without an audience.

But this begs another questions. If the next person born in the world can someday pursue a career in the hammer throw, why do we try to make the world such an orderly place? Why are we always saying, “This is what you should do – this is what you must do!”

Newscasters get in front of the camera every night (Who decided they should stand up, by the way?) and try to convince us that today might just prove to be one of the most important days in history and we had darned well better listen.

But what if we didn’t? What if we just said, “Nice throw”, and left it at that.

This is where the inductive, receiver-oriented Chinese have a distinct advantage moving forward. It’s old news that we live in a wired world. But it’s less clear where that is going to take us.

If the Track & Field Championship was televised in your area did you happen to notice that whenever they showed a picture of the crowd, it was mostly a sea of smart phones? Few faces were visible. And most of those amateur photographers, I suspect, were not documenting the event, but were documenting their presence at the event, transmitting their pictures instantly to their social media networks to verify their ‘participation’.

We don’t have to worry about the machines taking over the world, as Dr. Stephen Hawking has warned. We have to worry that we – the humans – are becoming machines. We are the enablers – and we’re doing it voluntarily.

The Chinese, I believe, will be less prone to this de-humanization. Because, in the end, they don’t give a single thought as to why someone became a hammer thrower. They just did. That’s how their yin and yang unfolded.

The most exciting news of the event for the Chinese was that SU Bingtian of China became the first Asian to ever qualify for the 100 meter men’s final. He finished last in the finals, .27 seconds behind Usain Bolt, but that didn’t dim the praise or the enthusiasm one iota.

Which brings me to a television advertisement currently running in Asia for one of the big American accounting firms. In it a presumed executive for this company claims that 80% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years. But that, of course, is not true. What’s true is that 80% of the world’s recorded data has been recorded in the last two years. (I can’t personally verify that but, if true, I don’t consider that a good sign at all.)

The world doesn’t need more data in my opinion. We need more time to sort out which data is important and which isn’t. Some things just are. Why someone became a hammer thrower isn’t important. That they obviously enjoy sport, competition, and have an incredible appetite for both discipline and achievement is.

By the way, Anita WLODARCZYK of Poland won the women’s hammer throw at the IAAF World Challenge with a mark of 77.73. Well done, Ms. Wlodarczyk!

Last week Beijing was host to the IAAF World Track & Field Championships. As always, they were splendid hosts.
Last week Beijing was host to the IAAF World Track & Field Championships. As always, they were splendid hosts.

View the author’s literary work written under the pen name of Avam Hale. Both books are available at Amazon and most major online retailers in both electronic and print formats.

Copyright © 2015 Glassmaker in China

Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.