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28th Olympics, Week 2

Running: Sport of the Gods

The second week in Athens brought us the dramatic highs and lows that define Track and Field. It seems like no other sport can test both the human body and spirit in such varying degrees of exhaustion and exultation. This can best be seen in the race of all races -- the marathon.

This Olympics welcomes the 26.2 mile race back home to its origins; it came about around 490 B.C.E. when the Greek soldier Philippides ran from Marathon to Athens to declare that the Greeks had won the Persian war only to die upon his last words. Athletes all over the world take the ultimate test of strength, stamina and will to take part in this race.

In last weekend's women's marathon, the girls were separated from the women. During the course, regarded the most difficult Olympics course to date with much of it up hill and in searing Mediterranean heat, towering world class athletes crumbled in tears and tiny racers proved themselves in front of the world.

World record holder Paul Radcliffe of Great Britain looked strong for three-quarters of the race; she led the pack and her 5'8" frame posed a daunted figure compared to the rest of the petite runners. But the heat and hills finally got to her as she lagged behind to third, catching up to second and then back to third when she suddenly stopped running and broke out into tears -- the ugly kind of crying that breaks you. Radcliffe, walked off the course and went to sit on a grassy patch to cry. Her race serves as the perfect example of how the marathon can break a runner; with the race being about 80% mental, pressure and insecurity can easily destroy even the greatest of runners.

Deena Kastor of the United States had a huge run for the bronze. While well behind the pack for the majority of the race, she surged the field and began quickly and steadily picking off exhausted runners. At ten miles, she was at 11th place, but ran an incredibly strong latter quarter in order to take third place.

The winner was 4'11" Mizuki Noguchi of Japan who took the hills like they were a walk in the park and continued a strong pace throughout the course. Hers was a great physical feat indeed; she won the event in 2:26:20.

The women's and men's 110m hurdles race can best be described in three words: crash and burn. Gail Devers, arguably one the world's greatest sprinters with the 110m hurdles considered to be her best and signature race dropped out of the quarterfinals after grotesquely crashing into her first hurdle with a calf injury thus leaving her with never having won a gold medal in the event.

Then Perdita Felicien of Canada, the Olympic favorite tumbled into a hurdle in the final, taking Russian athlete Irina Shevchenko down with her. The United States' Joanna Hayes ended up winning the event with an Olympic record of 12.37.

In the men's 110m hurdles, Olympic favorite Allen Johnson crashed upon a hurdle and zoomed down the track as if in a game of slip-n-slide. He too will not be advancing into the finals.

The race that supposedly determines the title of the World's Fastest Woman and Fastest Man is the 100m dash. For the men, first timer Justin Gatlin won the event in 9.85 seconds while Portugal's Francis Obikwelu came in second and the always verbose Maurice Green came away with a bronze (if he had won gold, we would never have heard the end of itů).

As for the women: Belarus' Yuliya Nesterenko came away with the gold in 10.93 seconds while the U.S.'s Lauryn Williams got second and Veronica Campbell of Jamaica won the bronze.

Special Commendation goes to the fans at the men's individual competition who nearly rioted when famed gymnast Alexei Nemov, who holds something like the most medals out of any athlete ever, was given a measly, low score for his breathtaking and outstanding performance on high bar. The man released a total of six times and even changed direction once in a routine visibly more difficult and gravity defying than his counterparts. His seemingly only mistake came when, instead of sticking his landing, he took a small -- the emphasis here is on the word small -- step.

The obviously impaired and/or bribed judges gave him a significantly low score, and then the audience blew up in jeers and boos. The deafening protests went on for a whopping five minutes before an official came out to 'talk' to the judges regarding their calculations for the score and, most likely, to figure out what they were smoking when they made the decision and exactly who sold it to them. After much deliberation under fear of death by fans, the judges actually reversed their decision and changed Nemov's score; however, they increased it by a mere 0.037th of a point which left him well out of medal contention. The fans responded with more jeers and possible threats. Paul Hamm was the poor guy who had to follow Nemov and couldn't even begin his routine until the Russian asked them to please quiet down. After Paul's solid but nowhere near as majestic performance, he received an inflated score that until sent to crowd into more of a fury. Rarely, if ever have the fans shown so much support for one athlete, and Nemov well deserved it. Now, if we could only figure out what those judges are on; perhaps they too should be subjected to drug testing?