Healing the spirit – F.S. Aijazuddin

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DOCTORS cure the human body. Olympians heal the human spirit.

The past 10-plus days of Olympiad XXXII have been exhausting — for the participating contestants, for its organisers and staff, even for us couch potatoes who enjoyed ringside seats without having to pay for them. Thanks to technology, a worldwide audience could without lifting a finger (except to activate their television remotes) watch their choice of 33 different sports.

No sooner had contestants finished their rounds than their endeavours were replayed, shot from moving cameras and drones from every angle, even from within the bullseye of the archer’s target. Viewers could follow an arrow as it undulated through the air from the archer’s high-tech bow until it hit its mark.

The men’s individual archery final between Turkey’s 22-year-old Mete Gazoz and Italy’s 34 year-old Mauro Nespoli pitched youth against maturity. Gazoz, already the reigning World Cup Champion, remained impassive behind his ungainly spectacles until his final shot scored a perfect 10. He could not do better, nor did he need to. He had secured the gold medal for his country Turkey. More than 170 years earlier, the 19th-century Turkish Sultan Mahmud II revived Turkish bowyery, even commissioning a book on this ancient skill. Gazoz’s gold medal belonged as much to that far-sighted sultan as to him.

One minor event played on July 24 in the preliminary pool round — a volleyball match between Poland and Iran — resonated with political undertones. No Western commentator said anything overtly prejudicial but one could sense condescension towards the Islamic Republic. The match lasted two-and-a-half hectic hours, ending with a 3:2 win for Iran. The defeated Poles looked as if they had conceded a nuclear deal to Iran. All that was missing was for the Israelis to call foul.

The same acidic dyspepsia erupted after the 200 metre swimming backstroke. The American Ryan Murphy (the silver medallist) appeared to accuse Russian Evgeny Rylov who got the gold of ‘doping’. Murphy griped that he had swum in a race “that’s probably not cle­an”. Murphy could not stomach that Rylov had set an Olympic record of 1 minute 53.27seconds, nor that Rylov had gained unassisted a gold medal earlier in the 100m backstroke.

Murphy’s ungracious cavil served as an­­ot­h­­er reminder of the West’s persistent condemnation of Russia and its determination to exc­lude it from the Olympic Games. At Tokyo, some 330 Russian sportspersons entered under the acronym of ROC — Russian Olympic Com­m­­­ittee. They were allowed to display their na­­tional flag’s colours of white, blue and red, but their uniform could not contain the word ‘Rus­sia’ without the humiliating rider ‘neutral athlete’.

Fifty-three ROC medal winners — 14 gold, 21 silver and 18 bronze — could not hear their national anthem being played. They had to be content with Tchaikovsky’s ultra-national Piano Concerto No. 1.

The second confusing acronym — EOR — stood for the Refugee Olympic Team — 29 assorted athletes chosen out of 56 refugees. Their training has been sponsored by 21 host countries. Ironically, many would be competing against the very countries they had escaped from.

The showpiece events on Sunday, Aug 1, began with the Venezuelan triple jumper Yulimar Rojas. She leapt to 15.67m, destroying the world record 15.50m achieved in 1995. Rojas is 1.92m tall. Her soaring stature dem­a­n­­­ded that her image be projected on the wor­ld’s tallest building — Dubai’s Burj-al-Khalifa.

The second event was the men’s high jump. Two contenders — Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi — cleared 2.37m but both failed when the bar was set at 2.39m. The audience expe­c­­­ted a shoot-out. Ins­tead, the two rivals decided to share the honour rather than divide it. They cap­ped this at the aw­­a­rd ceremony by garlanding the other with his own gold medal.

Organisers at Wimbledon could learn a lesson from such sportsmanship. In the 2019, in the men’s five-hour final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the victor was decided after a shoot-out when both players deserved to have their names engraved jointly on the trophy.

The crowning event on Sunday — the men’s 100m final — always a crowd-puller, released waves of delirium. To everyone’s surprise, Italy’s Marcell Jacobs sprinted to victory. Waiting for him at the finishing line was his compatriot Tamberi, who had won the high jump gold medal minutes earlier. The Italians twins became a golden Romulus and Remus.

The following day, history did a headstand. A Moroccan broke the monopoly of the Kenyans in the 3,000m steeplechase. More historic performances and shattered records are in store.

If there had been an Olympic platinum medal, Tokyo city deserved it. Courageously, it held Olympiad XXXII despite the Cassa­ndras. It demonstrated that the human spirit always triumphs over the human condition.