September 29, 2000 By Keith Smith

Thanks for the run, Ato

I didn’t see the shot, but a colleague tells me that after he lost the gold and won the bronze, Ato wrapped himself in the Trinidad and Tobago flag “looking for all the world like a poe-me-one”.

Well, I hope the lad has, by now, shrugged off his understandable disappointment and isn’t weighed down by any notion that he has let us down, he having done his best at the hour, that best earning him, and us, another silver and another bronze to go with the two bronzes and a gold won at other times and other places.

That makes him our most-medalled international competitor ever and while we all would have been drunk with glory had he won his first and our second Olympic gold, instead of a poe-me-one posture the man should stand proud, having single-handedly kept his country on the athletic map over at least the last five years.

Moreover, he has done it with a certain style as the world was to see during that prime time interview on Canadian television when he remained his old honest and straightforward self, articulate and at ease in the spotlight, better in the media game, I have always thought, than almost everybody else in the field.

Perhaps because Eric J and Jamie P—two of my friends whose attention to sport is such that they see these things—had prepared me for it, I took the Greek gold grab in stride, both of them telling me after the “preliminaries” that the strain was beginning to tell, that the edge had dulled and that it would have been difficult for Ato to win any medal.

“You mean there’s no hope?” I asked.

It is my luck to have friends who frequently try to let me down gently:

“Where’s there’s life there’s hope,” was Jamie P’s response so there I was, sleepy, watching the race, willing the lad to win, picking him out in front or thereabouts and then seeing him fade in the last quarter of the race, the Greek surging forward as if he was piloting a souped-up powerboat on the Aegean sea.

I had to depend on the commentary to learn that Boldon, with what must have been a desperate do-or-die effort, had beaten Oba to the bronze, but only just, which means, I suppose, that in Barbados they are lamenting not only the dash of their similarly golden hopes, but Ato’s stealing of the bronze by the width of an atom.

Now, then, comes the unwinding following these days of the kind of high emotion possible only when you have not only a horse, but one of the best horses in the race, and what I will miss, almost as much as the actual running itself, is the way Boldon always sought to bring us into the landscape of his mind, even daring to tell us the day before that tumultuous “Two” that he was “feeling okay physically but emotionally I’m having to find things to keep me going”.

I suppose, being both the human and the professional that he is, he is going to rerun and rerun the race in his mind’s eye, sizing up at what stage he might have miscalculated, working out how he might yet have nursed himself so that the gas wouldn’t have run out as it did, the point here being that there remains athletic life after Sydney with the “Worlds” to come and, the body willing, another Olympics with a chance to greet the Greek in his own hallowed home.

What though will sports historians make of this Sydney saga? Will it echo down the years as the one in which the Games really began to die? Or by the time we reach the country where it all started, will the American athletic authorities and the rest have done what has to be done to clean up sports in the full knowledge that to wrest honours from the rest of the world by dishonest means is, at best, a make-believe victory and, at worst, a cynical game of life and death?

And what of us here? Will Hasely, our golden Olympian, be able as we approach Athens to give our team the benefit of his expertise and the motivational boon of his blessing, or will he be forced to turn away sickened to the stomach by what he perceives to be official selfishness institutionalised at our and our children’s expense?

As we keep running with Boldon, wishing him, because he deserves it, the best for the rest of a career that has so moved and rallied us, will we have the comfort of knowing that Ato’s adrenalin has activated athletics here?

Will what he has done, and will no doubt continue to do, inspire new aspirations that attract new attitudes? Or will athletic authors after write of Ato’s arrival as aberration?

I wish I had the answers but all I know for now, unfortunately, is that in more ways than one, the saga, both in secret and in public, both in the individual and in the collective, continues.

Meantime, breds, thanks again for the runs both past and still to come.

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