Have you ever watched an Olympics or World Championships and seen the athletes who place in the top 3, celebrate with a flag from their country? They usually pose for pictures while holding the flag behind them.
Have you ever wondered where those flags come from?
Do the athletes pack a flag in their sweats bag and run to get it if they medal? Does someone from their federation have a stash trackside?
I distinctly remember in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, going out and buying a USA flag. I didn’t know where these celebratory flags suddenly appeared from but I’d be damned if I wasn’t prepared. I e-mailed Shannon Rowbury and told her that if she needed one (and that I hoped she did), her old high school coach was prepared with a USA flag in his backpack.
At the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, Malinda and I had very good seats by the finish line in about row fifteen. Bernard Lagat won the silver in the 5000 meters. I waved my USA flag proudly (the same flag I had purchased in Beijing in hopes that Shannon would need it). Lagat was right in front of me and looking up into the stands. He was looking for a USA flag for his celebration. I swear, we locked eyes for a split second. My mind raced, trying to figure out how I would get my flag down the fifteen rows and into Lagat’s hands. But before I could move, Lagat spotted someone with a USA flag sitting closer. He motioned for that flag. If only I had been a few rows closer to the track.
As we prepared for the 2015 World Championships back in Beijing, I noted that we were sitting pretty close to the track and in the middle of the first turn, near the photographers and not far from the finish line. I decided there was a chance US athletes could be asking for our flag. There was only a week left before we left. Luckily, Malinda’s friend has Amazon Prime. We left for Beijing with our original USA flag from 2008 and three new ones… just in case.
Malinda has listened to me talk about fans giving athletes their celebratory flags for seven years. She humored me by helping me acquire the three new flags for this trip… just in case. But all through this, we’ve never really known how this works. Do athletes really take flags from fans in the stands?
On the first night of the 2015 World Championships, we got our answer. Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters with a great final 100 meter kick. He ran around to the middle of the first curve in celebration. Photographers followed him. He made the Mo-Bot gesture with his arms. The crowd cheered wildly. Now he needed a Union Jack flag. He looked up into the stands and the people right in front of us were waving their Union Jack. Mo locked eyes with them. They didn’t move. But I had been in this position before and I yelled to them, “Throw him your flag. Throw him your flag.” They did. The photographers helped relay it down to Mo and he started posing for pictures with the flag. Malinda high-fived the two guys who gave up their flag. I talked excitedly to them about how in every picture they see of Mo celebrating with the flag, they’ll know that it’s their flag! In my mind, they are famous!
Some people go to baseball games, dreaming of catching a home run or foul ball. Me? I go to track & field meets, dreaming that someday I’ll throw my USA flag down to a USA athlete for their celebration pictures.
I’ve been to a lot of track & field meets in my lifetime. Often things happen at meets that stick in my mind – sometimes something big and sometimes something small. Tonight, on the opening night of the fourteenth IAAF World Championships in Moscow, two things, both small, occurred that stuck in out in my mind.
First, after the men’s 10,000 meters, Mo Farah was beginning his celebratory victory lap surrounded by photographers. I noticed some British fans in front of us waving their UK flags. I told Malinda to have her camera ready because Mo might stop in front of our section, because of these UK fans, and do the “Mobot.” Sure enough, he did (photo coming when we can get to a computer with a USB port). After that, Mo motioned to one of the UK fans for his Union Jack flag – Mo needed a flag for the traditional photos and victory lap. The man tossed his flag to a photographer, who was gracious enough to take it to Mo. “Wow!” I thought to myself….what an honor to have Mo take YOUR flag for all these photos and the victory lap! “That guy is going to have a story to tell his running buddies when he gets home,” I told Malinda.
This reminds me of a story from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. We had great seats, right by the finish line in around row fifteen. After the men’s 5000, I was on my feet waving a US flag and cheering for Lagat. Suddenly, “Kip” looked up into the stands. He was looking for a US flag for the victory lap that all three medalists take. I swear Lagat looked at my flag and our eyes locked for a moment. Then someone closer (maybe around row eight) got his attention and Lagat ended up taking that person’s flag. I was THAT close to having my own, “my flag went on a victory lap” story.
But I digress…
The second small thing from tonight happened with Usain Bolt. As Bolt came out for his heat of the 100 meter rounds, the somewhat sparse crowd in Luzhniki Stadium went wild. It was the loudest the crowd was all night. Malinda and I had a short discussion about whether or not track & field has ever had an icon like Usain Bolt. I think the answer is no. Bolt is the first, the current, and possibly the greatest most recognizable athlete that the sport has and will ever see. Bolt is a world record holder, he competes in multiple events and is thus a multiple time champion, and he knows how to play to the crowd.
In the final moments before the race, Bolt removed his sweats and placed them into the sweats basket. I was thinking to myself, will Bolt interact with the volunteer who is in charge of carrying his sweats. In Berlin at the 2009 World Championships, Bolt was always playful with the volunteers. But Russians are known to be quite serious and maybe he would resist the temptation. But luckily, Usain Bolt is Usain Bolt. He fist pumped the volunteer and then made his way to his starting blocks. I loved it! That young volunteer will have a story for the rest of his life about giving Usain Bolt a fist pump before his race.
The first day of ten days at the 2013 World Championships is in the books. It was a great night of small things.
The announcers around here are calling Saturday August 4, 2012 the greatest day in United Kingdom (UK) Olympic history. At least from a track & field (or athletics, as it’s called over here) perspective.
Walking around the Olympic Park this afternoon I saw two British fans wearing specially made t-shirts in support of two of their favorite athletes. One’s shirt said “Yes Jess” on it. The other said “Go Mo.” The newspaper slipped under my hotel room door this morning, The Independent, had two articles each on this Jess (heptathlete Jessica Ennis) and this Mo (10,000 meter runner Mohammed Farah) and their prospects for bringing home the gold medal on their home turf. At the very beginning of the meet, the public address announcer informed the crowd that the last time a UK track & field athlete won a gold medal at an Olympics held in London was 1908. Well, that is a long time. But track & field at the 2012 Olympics just got underway so all the statistic really means is that the home team got shutout on the gold medal front when they hosted the Olympics in 1948.
Still, the pro-Great Britain/cheer wildly for every Great Britain athlete attitude was on display at the track on this night. This night that would turn into quite a special one for fans of athletics in the UK.
It all started around 9:02pm local time. Ennis had a strong lead in the women’s heptathlon and was more or less assured of the gold medal. In the final event of the heptathlon, the 800 meters, she went out hard for the first 400 meters and then slowed and was caught by a couple runners. With 200 meters to go, however, the crowd roared to life and this inspired Ennis to find re-take the lead down the final straightaway, much to the delight of the crowd. Her time of 2:08.65 earned her 984 points and brought her final score for the two-day, seven event competition to 6,955 points. She finished 306 points ahead of second place and broke her own UK record for the heptathlon. How dominant was Ennis in this event? Second place finisher Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany finished with a score closer to eleventh place Brianne Theisen of Canada (who also happens to be Ashton Eaton’s fiancé) than to Ennis’ score.
Right as the heptathlon was winding down all eyes in the stadium shifted to the long jump runway. Great Britain had two athletes, neither of whom got much press in the newspaper today, unlike Ennis and Farah. Greg Rutherford and Christopher Tomlinson were trying to win Great Britain its second gold medal earned on home turf since 1908 as well as the second one of the hour. After one round of jumps, Tomlinson led with a jump of 8.06 meters. Rutherford took over the lead in the second round with a jump of 8.21 meters. For a short time, Great Britain was sitting in the gold and bronze medal positions in the long jump. Rutherford improved to 8.31 meters in the fourth round, a jump missed by many in the stands as when it happened the crowd was focused on another British athlete in the heptathlon, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, a nineteen year old athlete, who just may be the “next Jessica Ennis.” At 9:22pm, as Ennis finished her victory lap, Will Claye from the United States was on the runway. He was the penultimate jumper and the last jumper with a chance to knock Rutherford out of the gold medal spot. When Claye’s mark fell short, the crowd went wild as Rutherford celebrated winning a gold medal in the long jump.
Minutes later, the men’s 10,000 meter race was underway. Farah bided his time in the front pack, not concerning himself as runners from Eritrea and Kenya jockeyed for position, continually surging and slowing down. The lead group got smaller and smaller but there were still eight or so runners still in contention with a mile to go. Even over the last lap five or six runners were still in it with a chance to win. The stadium was going crazy cheering for Farah, who for his part, looked in control the whole way.
Over the last 300 meters, Farah looked strong with the lead but not all eyes in the stadium were strictly on him. Earlier in the race I had commented that maybe this wasn’t Galen Rupp’s day as he seemed to fall back from the lead pack for no apparent reason. But when it came time to really race, Rupp was there and Rupp was ready. He surged past a couple of runners at the 300 to go mark. With 200 to go, he was well positioned on the outside and appeared to be running faster than the runners just ahead of him. Just like at the 2011 World Championships when I started screaming, “She’s going to medal. She’s going to medal,” about Jenny Simpson in the women’s 1500 with about 150 meters to go (Simpson would not only medal but win the race), I started yelling that Rupp was going to medal. Down the final homestretch Farah held on to the lead and Rupp secured second place. It was a third gold medal for the UK in less than an hour. A medal for the USA in the men’s 10,000 meters, their first since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when a kid named Billy Mills won the gold.
The guys at FloTrack have a great photo sequence of the final 100 meters.
I am not versed enough in Great Britain’s Olympic and track & field history to know if today should rank as the greatest day in their Olympic history. It was certainly a terrific day, though, but not just for the Brits. I am pretty sure that for Galen Rupp, he can say that today was his greatest day in his track & field career.
I have watched hundreds of track & field meets in person, on television, and on the computer over the years. But I have never seen some of the things that I saw at the Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday, July 22, 2011. For a brief moment at the end of the men’s 1500 meters I thought I was watching a hockey game instead of a track & field meet. Then less than an hour later, the action during the men’s 5000 meter race looked strangely similar to roller derby.
The men’s 1500 meters was an exciting race won by Silas Kiplagat in a 2011 world-leading time of 3:30.47. However, it turns out that the real excitement would happen after the race. France’s Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who finished ninth and eleventh in the race got into an altercation right at the finish line. This was not just a shouting match or some shoving. There was a head butt and some wild punches thrown.
As a result of their “brawl” as the BBC is calling it, both athletes did not receive their appearance fees and the French Athletics Federation has provisionally suspended them pending further investigation. A disciplinary hearing should take place within the next week. After that, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) will determine if they will take action, such as not allowing these two French athletes to compete at the World Championships in Daegu. If you are to believe the quotes from the athletes, it was all just a misunderstanding.
Forty minutes later, the men’s 5000 meter race was underway. The rabbit set a strong pace early and the race was on 12:50 pace through 2000 meters. Even though it slowed down a bit after that, the leaders came through 3000 meters still on sub-13 minute pace. As the race slowed down even more the lead pack started to get bunched together.
The live streaming video on universalsports.com that I was watching then broke away to cover the triple jump. When the camera returned to the track, the race clock read 10:41 and there were about 900 meters left in the race. The announcers started to explain that less than a lap ago there was a fall by the finish line and Galen Rupp went down and was out of the race.
What a shame! Rupp was certainly on pace to better his PR of 13:06.86. Later Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar would text a picture of Rupp’s shoulder to TrackFocus reporter Doug Binder, with the message, “Scratched up and sore but upbeat, ran good hard workout after, not tired. Has to learn to stay out of trouble.”
Back to the actual race. The announcers had not yet given all the details about Rupp’s fall when there was more pushing as the runners neared the 800 meter to go mark. The announcers stated that Imane Merga of Ethiopia was responsible for a lot of the shoving. The video feed then cut to a shot from a track level camera situated right next to finish line. All of a sudden there was a green jersey coming right at the camera. It was Chris Solinsky! He had been pushed, lost his balance and stepped over the inner rail and off the track. Solinsky angrily pumped his fists at the pack as they continued on without him in the race. The race clock now read 11:02. In the span of twenty seconds, I learned that two top Americans were out of the race.
Later Solinsky would tweet that he let his emotions get the better of him and that he should have gotten back on the track and finished the race. Even if his chances of winning the race, breaking the American record, and setting a new PR were gone, he probably still could have achieved an Olympic A standard for next year if he had completed the race. Kimbia.net has a great sequence of photos of Solinsky being pushed.
The race continued and thanks to a sixty second penultimate lap and a final lap of 53.7 seconds (the last 200 was run in 26.4 seconds), Great Britain’s Mo Farah won the race over America’s Bernard Lagat, 12:53.11 to 12:53.60. Both Farah and Lagat set their respective national records.
There was one final thing at the Monaco meet that I almost witnessed that would have been unique – Usain Bolt getting beat in the 100 meters. However a fantastic final twenty meters and a well timed lean gave Bolt the win over fellow Jamaican Nesta Carter, 9.88 to 9.90.