LONDON -- Even when the world's greatest athletes come together, track and field remains a sport of relative success. Two runners might sweep along the track at the same pace, as part of the same pack, and for one woman to hold that pace is lion-hearted, while for another to keep the same pace is apathetic.
On the track in London, there was David Rudisha, the Maasai warrior from Kenya, who smashed his own world record in the 800 meters. But it was not Rudisha's night alone. In the slipstream of greatness, miraculous things occur. That race is best understood in 16 letters: WR, NR, PB, PB, PB, NR, SB, PB. In other words, every single man ran his best, even Andrew Osagie, the Brit who finished last, but ran faster than he ever had before. What more can one ask from a race? Or any sporting event? Three national records were set in the men's 800-meter final, which may well be a record in itself for any 800-meter race. Nick Symmonds, the American who finished fifth in a personal best 1:42.95, said that he ran faster than he thought he would ever physically be capable of in his life. "Redefining my own limits," he said, "which is really what sport is about."
Some athletes redefined the limits of all humanity. There was, of course, Usain Bolt, who anchored the Jamaican 4x100-meter relay team to a world record 36.84, besting Jamaica's record from last year's world championships. Allyson Felix and the U.S. women's 4x100 similarly smashed the world record, but by breaking a 27-year-old mark set by East Germany. The Bahamas men's 4x400-meter relay set a national record, winning the first men's track and field gold medal for the country of 350,000, and defeating the United States, which had crossed the line first in every Olympic 4x400 it had entered since 1952.
But most of the record-breaking on the track and in the field was occurring right in front of spectators who had no idea. There were 75 national records set in track and field, some by athletes who did not meet Olympic qualifying standards but were given wild card bids by the IOC, in the hope of engaging those nations more fully in the Olympic movement. (In Beijing, 85 national records were set in track and field, five of which were world records -- three being set by Usain Bolt and the Jamaican 4x100-meter relay.) Many of the athletes who set national records had no hope of even making a final, much less medaling. But the athletic tradition of a nation is not built overnight, and sometimes placing the first stone can be the most difficult, but also the most important. Like
Or 19-year-old Maziah Mahusin, the first woman ever to compete in the Olympics for Brunei. Mahusin won a race at school sports day when she was 14, and was given a chance to train with Brunei's national team. Four months ago, Brunei's Olympic committee called her to a meeting where she was told she would compete in the Olympics, and carry the flag for Brunei. Mahusin was thrilled. Still, she had never competed in front of a large crowd before, and when she stepped into Olympic stadium, she got so nervous she could hardly bring herself to start the 400-meters. "When I came in, I was like, Oh, I can't do this," she says. "I can't do it." But she did it, running a national record 59.28, to take sixth in a first round heat. "I'm really happy right now!" Mahusin said after the race. "I can't wait to see my coach." Mahusin, who studies computers in Brunei, says that she was often told there was no future in athletics for a woman, so she should concentrate on her studies. "I really want to prove them wrong," she says. She'd also like to inspire other female athletes in Brunei so that she will no longer have to train only with men. "It's really just more fun, and I'd feel more confident about myself with another female athlete," she says. "And, you know, sharing all that female stuff. So I hope there's a lot of female athletes soon in Brunei." Still, apart from such lofty ambitions, Mahusin was able to enjoy some of the same things in London that other athletes did. "On the second day I met Usain Bolt!" she effused.
Stories of triumph and perseverance abound in London, some tinged with creativity. Like that of Julius Yego, who finished 12th in the javelin for Kenya. That nation of legendary distance runners has scant tradition in javelin, and Yego learned his skills practicing with sticks and copying technique from YouTube.
Or how about Asenate Manoa, who set the Tuvalu national record for the women's 100-meters in 13.48 seconds, finishing 27th of 33 competitors. Manoa actually competed in the Olympics four years ago in Beijing, and that was her first time ever touching a synthetic track. Prior to that, Manoa had trained on an airport runway. When Manoa walked into Olympic stadium in London, it was to perform in front of eight times as many people as live in her entire country. (The only major media exposure Manoa received in London was when she
Below are listed the names of every athlete (or relay team) who, in London, set the bar higher for his or her country.