Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What makes a 16-year-old GIVE UP?

I gave up pronto, I did, in 1976, on a dark afternoon in the dark country, Wolverhampton, England.

I had feverishly trained at long jumping for four summers, several times a week. My run up was paced perfectly to hit the board, with two checkmarks, my hang technique was impeccable, and I had made it to the National Under-17 final.

There it all ended abruptly! There were eight of us, and I finished a solid, emphatic last, more than a foot behind the lad in seventh place, and a meter behind the winner, Gus Udo. Outclassed, depressed, I realised the talent just wasn't there. That's what makes a 16-year-old give up. I never jumped again. Not once.

Not so my training partner Tim Newenham who kept going, threw javelin at the Commonwealth Games, became National Javelin Coach then fitness coached the tennis player Tim Henman for five years (Henman's the English guy who reached the Wimbledon semi-finals four times and lost each one, thus firmly cementing the national sense of sporting futility!). Now, with pleasure I see Tim N. is javelin coaching Oliver Bradfield from my same old athletics club, and Oliver last year threw 63m, the best throw in the world for his age, and this year over 75m, breaking the UK U15 record by over two meters. Way to go Ollie and Tim!

As for Gus, well, his 7.08m winning jump in 1976 broke the championship record, and he also won the high jump. I couldn't seem to get away from him, because we both ended up at Harvard a few years later. He, however, was the revered co-captain of the Crimson track team while yours truly gave him a wide berth. Fingers burned, you see...

Oliver Bradfield, wearing that same Norfolk County athletics vest I wore 34 years ago (brings tears to one's eyes, it does :-)).

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