The Zurich Diamond League meeting in early September put curtains to one of the best ever track and field seasons. Even though low-key meetings continued around the world, the stars went into their routine sabbatical off-season.
The post-pandemic season saw many exciting championships such as European Indoors, World U-20 Championships, European U-23’s and the most important among them all, the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. We saw a new breed of athletes stamping their authority to the world, seasoned campaigners cementing their places in history, rivalries that would be talked about for ages. We saw it all.
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But underneath this fierce competition, there was camaraderie, love, and affection. There were sacrifices, self-belief, and hard work. In the aftermath of this exciting season, we shall take some time to analyze the life lessons that track and field showered on the world this season.
No Human is limited’ feat Eliud Kipchoge
There is no better way to set off this article than remembering the title of the autobiography of Olympic Marathon Champion Eliud Kipchoge. Long before Tokyo, Kipchoge had already etched himself into the history books. At the age of 28, Kipchoge switched to Road running with an Olympic silver and bronze behind his shoulder. Many would have advised him against this as it was the right time in his career to make a mark for himself in distance track races.
Nevertheless, this shift went on to become the best decision of Kipchoge’s life thus far. He went on to win 3 Berlin marathons, 4 London marathons, and a Chicago marathon. To add a feather to the crown, he won his first Olympic gold in Rio Marathon 2016. He went on to become the first person to break the two-hour barrier in a marathon. (Under monitored conditions). Breaking the two-hour barrier in a marathon was considered as impossible by many theorists and experts.
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In spite of Pacers, wind-assisted conditions, pace cars, and modern shoes one cannot take an inch away from Kipchoge with regards to this achievement. Kipchoge had nothing left to prove and was already immortal in the world of track and field. He owned the world record and also had a record streak of 10 marathon wins.
At the age of 38, Kipchoge entered Tokyo 2020 as one of the favorites but with an army of newer generation athletes to challenge him. But what turned out was unexpected. The Kenyan legend dominated the race and cruised into victory only to become the third male ever to defend the Olympic marathon title.
Kipchoge advocated, “Any human being can go beyond their limits. No human being should be limited in their thoughts, in what he or she should be doing. Self-belief is crucial.” But the better part is that he advocated his words through his actions. He showed to the world that all it takes for greatness is self-belief and discipline.
Kipchoge’s life and achievements are nothing but a compilation of discipline, simplicity, and self-belief showing to the world that no human being can be confined to a world of limited ideas.
‘Stand tall in the face of adversity’ feat Francine Niyonsaba
Francine Niyonsaba is one among the famous victims of ‘Castor Semenya’ rule. Due to increased testosterone levels in the body like Semenya, Niyonsaba was barred from participating in 800m at Tokyo.
However, Niyonsaba earned her ticket to Tokyo through 5000m and 10000m. Niyonsaba qualified for the 5000m final only to be disqualified for stepping on the line. Her disqualification happened under bizarre circumstances with video footage unable to prove that she actually stepped out of the line.
Above that, stepping over or out of the line by getting boxed-in in a 5 km race gives one no advantage nor is it the individual’s choice. This at the same time the United States 4×400 mixed relay team was reinstated in their final after a seemingly much more egregious error in the semifinal: missing the baton-exchange window by a good five yards.
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In 2017, Mo Farah stepped out of the line in London in front of the home crowd with an audience of over 10,000. The committee was quick to reinstate him. The worst part was that her country Burundi was not by her side when she needed them the most.
She appealed on her own only to lose and not to be heard. Her dreams of making the final were crushed. Niyonsaba went on to finish 5th in 10,000m which was a great accomplishment for a woman who is specialized in the half-mile.
Despite the setback, Niyonsaba was not finished. In the next couple of months, she set the Diamond League circuit on fire by winning all her 5000m. In Zagreb, she became the first woman with DSD (Difference of sexual development) to create a world record.
She ran an amazing 5:2.56 over the course of 2000m. She won the Brussels, Paris, and Zurich (Finals), Diamond Leagues, defeating Rio 2016 silver medalist Helen Obiri every time.
In an exclusive interview with the Olympic channel, Francine said- “I know people keep talking, you can’t make them stop. I like it because I will take that as motivation. I didn’t choose to be born like this. I was created by God. So, if someone has more questions about it, maybe you can ask God. I love myself. I will still be Francine. I will not change. I will not stop my vision. I will keep my passion. I love running and I will not stop running.” Niyonsaba is an inspiration and will continue to inspire the world to stand tall in the face of adversity.
‘Consistency is the secret to success’ feat Kirani James
At the age of 19 in London, Kirani James won the first-ever Olympic gold medal for Grenada and in the process became the first person outside America to go under 44 seconds for 400m.
Before 2012 James was a superstar in the making. Even before London he had won the Daegu world championship at the age of 18. James was a teenager when hurricane Ivan destroyed Grenada. The only synthetic track in the country was in ruins. This forced him to practice in grass and mud. In the later years, when James went from strength to strength as his country struggled to rebuild.
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While the country struggled due to the aftermath of Ivan, James had brought happiness and jubilation by winning the first ever medal. Four years later, he brought in the country’s second medal in the form of silver.
However, post-Rio Olympics 2016 Kirani’s timings started dipping gravely and he was overcome with fatigue. This forced him to take a blood test which revealed that he was suffering from Graves’ disease. He spent more than a year out of the sport after his diagnosis, tweaking medication and getting advice on how to manage the condition alongside his training workload.
It almost took three years for James to completely recover and had only run five races since his diagnosis. Nonetheless, he finished in a respectable 7th position in the 2017 London world championship finals. James, who was set to resume his career in 2019, faced additional setbacks, not least the death of his mother, Annie, who died from kidney disease in May.
He also picked up some niggling injuries and so decided to wait until later in the year to open his season. The postponement of the Olympics due to the pandemic was a blessing in disguise to James as it gave him enough time to recover and start off fresh before the Olympics. The pre-Olympic season was a mixed bag for the Grenadian as his performances varied.
However, one thing was for sure, James was fit again to race at the highest level. At the Tokyo Games, he finished with a bronze behind Steven Gardiner and Anthony Zambrano. He became the first person to win a gold, silver and a bronze medal in the 400m at Olympics. The biggest life lesson one can take from Kirani’s career thus far is his dedication and will to be consistent. Facing the adversities Kirani did not give up. He made sure that he was there. He did not care what the world thought about him.
He was not afraid to give his best. After Kirani’s victory, The Grenadian prime minister congratulated James saying “The fact that he was able to win a medal is highly significant because he accomplished this after being diagnosed with Graves’ Disease. Coming back to competition after being away for a significant amount of time and being able to secure third place is an accomplishment beyond gold. He demonstrated true tenacity, and as a nation, we are extremely proud of him.”
Kirani’s longevity and his ability to bounce back from difficulties have shown the world that no matter what, believe in yourself and show up. The most important thing in life is to show up. Whether you win or lose is secondary. The fact that you tried is more satisfying than not being there. As the younger generation is taking over the baton of athletics Kirani stands as a testament to time and a true inspiration not only for athletes but everyone out there who are thinking of giving up.