Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Old Friends Re-United

Many years ago I used to be the assistant manager of a bar in Nottingham. Over the time I was there we employed many staff but one in particular became a close friend; Sophie. We got on like a house on fire and had many a drunken time together. We soon became the best of mates and used to tell each other everything. For some time we shared a house.

But then it all went wrong !

We fell out. Even to this day I don’t know what it was over or even who started it. It upset me a great deal but my stubborn nature refused to allow me to apologise and we drifted apart and she moved out and we both moved on. We did meet briefly in the street some months after losing touch but we were both in a rush and did little to reconfirm our once strong friendship.

Years later, whilst I still remembered Sophie fondly I had one little to try and get back in touch. That was until I was looking through some old things of mine and found the first Christmas card she had ever sent me. It said some very nice things and made me realise what a fool I had been to let such a good friend go (you don’t get too many). All I knew was that she had a very unusual surname (not going to mention it here) and I remembered that she had planned to move to London to study medicine. My search began.

I googled her … all I got was a research paper that she had co-wrote whilst at Nottingham University. I trawled the phone book (I remembered the town her parents were from) but despite the unusual surname there where too many names for me to call up. What next ? Friends Re-United … no luck !!! Then one day my sister phone me to say that she had seen some of my old school mates on Facebook. I wasn’t that bothered in contacting them but did ask her to look up Sophie … success !!!

I sent her a message and she replied. I felt so good to hear from her again. We both apologised but neither of us remembered why. Unfortunately she is in South Africa at the moment as part of her medical studies but we have planned to meet up when she gets back in October. I cant wait and I am sure that we will have a great drunken night out (or maybe two) as we have so much to catch up on.

Blade Runner

Everyone has heard of the Olympics and most people are aware of the Paralympics but where does on end and the other begin ? I am referring of course to Oscar Piturious the South African sprinter who is known as the “Fastest Man On No Legs”. A birth defect left him as a double below knee amputee but he did not let this get in his way and took up running.

He uses specially modified running blades which allows him to complete against other amputee athletes. He has done this with great effect. He has a number of Paralympic gold medals and holds the world record for 100m, 200m and 400m. But he his now so far ahead of the rest of the disabled world he wants a new challenge – racing against able bodied athletes. He has already had a few races in his native South Africa against athletes with both legs and did quite well. Well better than most people expected. But where to now ?

His dream is to compete at the able bodied Olympics but there are many people that wish to stand in his way. He is quick. His personal bests would have won him the gold medal in the womens sprit races at last years World Championships and he is improving at a great speed (pardon the pun). However, many people say that his “blades” give him an unfair advantage over able body athletes normal legs by giving him a greater stride length and more recoil of the track. At present the IAAF (the governing body of athletics) have given him the go ahead to compete in able bodied events but it is still unclear weather he can go to the forthcoming World Champs in Osaka and next years Olympics.

Checks on the fairness of his blades are currently been undertaken and the sports world awaits the decision. And I am all for his inclusion. That is what the Olympics is all about; inclusion. He is a talented sports man who is so far ahead of his peers he wants a new challenge. His blades allow him to run and a long stride length is not the be all and end all of good running. Whilst a number of sprinters have been successful with long stride lengths (Roger Black and Marie Jose Perec were said to have a stride length pushing 4 metres) the greatest sprinter of the modern era, Michael Johnson had a very short stride and went on to hold the world record over 200 and 400m as well as numerous World and Olympic medals.

I feel he will be a breath of fresh air in the sport and at least he is clean ! The sport of athletics has had a bad reputation recently with a number of high profile drug cheats being exposed. Lets hope that the governing body see sense and allow him to run or at least try.