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Athletics World Championships

Waving flags, choir songs, rain and British humour in Beijing

Christine Day, Shericka Jackson, Stephenie Ann McPherson and Novlene Williams-Mills of Jamaica win the women's 4x400 metres relay.
Christine Day, Shericka Jackson, Stephenie Ann McPherson and Novlene Williams-Mills of Jamaica win the women's 4x400 metres relay. Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Five things we loved from day nine.

  • Sounds like caffeine

The review set off for the Olympic stadium on day nine just as a few drops of rain started to fall from the heavens. By the time we emerged from the metro, there was a full-scale downpour. The exit from the station was blocked by a steaming mass trying to avoid the elements.

We decided to take shelter just opposite the exit in an outlet of a well-known cafe chain. There was no respite in the rain and since we had to get to the stadium, we had to brave the great outdoors.

But we took a moment to stop to listen to choir. Huddled underneath some awnings were about 50 men and women singing. We didn’t have a clue what they were saying but it was tuneful. No one on the periphery was able to explain why they were there. And sine we were in a hurry and it would have been rude to stop and ask the choir master, we moved on. They were very good.

  • Beijing, mon amour

And suddenly it was over. No, we’re not coming over all existential. Nothingness could be further from the truth. Rather we’re coming on all nouvelle vague with a clin d’oeil to the great filmmaker Alain Resnais. Quite what he would have made of all the pomping and circumstancing in the Bird’s Nest stadium on day nine would be instructive.

The closing ceremony was a feast for the ears, eyes and that little old heart. There were two twenty-somethings belting out the tunes. More than 200 children clad in what can only be described as an idea of the concept of a school uniform waved the flags of the competing countries and sang joyously. Even crusty old reporters in the press room were lured Pied Piper-like away from their screens by the crystal clear callings of the choirboys and girls. Resistance was futile. They were crushed by the wondrousness. This was blisskrieg.

  • Before the high, more lows

The 4x400 relay teams had a chance to go through the pre-race show on day nine. And we’re pleased to report a new glitzkrieg front was opened. The short-skirted, long-legged ladies that were out for the 4x100m teams on day eight were replaced by soberly dressed children waving flags of the competing nations.

There was no change to the protocol for the athletes though. They strode out of the tunnel to pose before a camera as the name of their country was announced to the jubilant stadium. We particularly liked the way two teenagers either side of the four athletes suddenly thrust forward a pole bearing that country’s flag. A jolly nationalistic backdrop. As for the poses: the US team did a tableau à la Charlie’s Angels while the Canadians blew kisses. Bless.

  • We never knew it could be like this

This is clearly the new athletics. It’s loud and chirpy. It must be what the people want. If they don’t want it, they’re getting it anyway. When some of the men’s relay teams came out for their introductions, some held a few rapper poses. The Belgians played it clean and gave a thumbs-up while the Britons did a baby cradling motion. That’s good lads. Has someone’s lady had a baby?

  • Runner turns investigator

Two years ago at the Moscow championships, the review set up a ‘testosteronometer’ to gauge the manliness of the post-race comments. The American LaShawn Merrritt went off the scale after his win in the 400m. Reviewing his race he said that he drew a middle lane so he said he had to run like a big dog. The flourish ended: “I went for it and I got.”

We thought woof. At this year’s championships, Merritt won silver in the 400 behind the South African Wayde van Niekerk. However he anchored the US team to victory in the 4x400m. They finished in 2:57.82, the best time in the world this season and their sixth consecutive title in the event. Trinidad and Tobago were just behind. At the end of the press conference, Merritt said: “Let me ask a question.” And turning to the British team he asked: “How do you feel about your medal Great Britain?” Martin Rooney took the microphone and deadpanned: “Delighted.” Silence. Chuckles all round. Oh, that British humour.

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Merritt then persevered – he is a champion after all. He asked Rooney: “How did you feel being in these big championships and coming down the home stretch? You had to go for it to get this bronze medal. My race was exciting at the front but the Jamaican guy was coming but you got him. That shows some big heart.”

Rooney replied: “My wife gave birth to our first child on Wednesday and there was no way I wasn’t going to fight all the way down the home straight. I was chasing [Machel] Cedenio but I couldn’t catch him and Jevon [Francis] was the next guy. I wanted that medal more than anything. The British have come fourth a lot so we really had to fight for it and I’m really proud of the rest of guys in the squad for how well they set it up and I’m just looking forward to going home and being a dad.”

Now you know why the Brits did their baby swinging thing. And on that high of internal coherence, the review says farewell from Beijing.

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