A tale of two Tokyo Olympics
Hi folks, In a tale of two Tokyo Olympics, who would have thought I could be beaten by a woman! This Wednesday, while sitting on Criccieth beach I watched the final of the women’s 800m on my android with some interest. After all it was my event and as it happens I was considered for the squad for the 1972 Munich Olympics. While the front running of American Athing Mu was truly impressive, Wigan’s Keely Hodgkinson’s pace judgment and strong finish was equally outstanding. However, what bowled me over was Keely’s time: after all she is only 19. 1:55.88, now a UK record. Amazingly, she took almost two seconds off her PB and almost six seconds off her 2020's PB. Mind you, that often happens when you run a big race. However, what is truly remarkable that she could have beaten me when I was 19, all those years ago. I’m just getting my old running diary out now to find my PB for 1968. Yes, a fast race at Blackburn with 1:54.0. Earlier in the season, in running against Oxford’s second team, I won in 1:55.2, then a PB. (Just realised: these times are for 880 yards, some 0.7 seconds longer than 800m) The point is that probably Keely would have beaten me – which in 1968 would have been unthinkable. As for most things female in that era, women’s athletics was considered altogether inferior, second-class. Strangely last time I sat on Criccieth beach was in 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. You won’t believe this but for the first half of the twentieth century, the International Olympic Committee only allowed women to run upto 400m. Any longer would be dangerous. Women were considered to be too frail to run any farther than one lap.
Looking back it is remarkable how this was considered obvious and uncontested. It was only in 1960 the IOC decided to introduce a new distance for women, the 800m. Surrey PE teacher Mary Packer won a silver medal in the Tokyo 400m, running 52.20, a European record. As far as she was concerned, her Olympics were over – even though she had been entered for the 800m. However, she was undecided whether even to turn up for the race – and planned (you won’t believe this) to go shopping. However, her fiancé Robbie Brightwell ran a disappointing 4th place in the men’s 400m final. She was upset for him and this is his record of their conversation. I quote from his autobiography. “Do you think I should run in the 800m heats tomorrow?” she asked. “Maybe I should call it a day and go shopping.” I gaped in astonishment. “Shopping? You must be mad! Shopping? This is the Olympic games, not the Moulsford Village sports!” She smiled sheepishly. “OK I’ll run. Not that it’ll make much difference. I’m bound to get eliminated in the heats, and then I can go shopping.” To cheer him up, she decided to turn up. Her total lack of experience proved no problem, and her strong finish won her the gold medal in the world record of 2:01.1. An amazing run but even as a school boy I could have run 2:01. We’re talking about expectations now and in this tale of two Tokyo Olympics there has been a total sea-change in the way women in athletics, in life even, has been viewed. In fact, tomorrow I will be running in the Ormskirk ParkRun and obviously women of all ages, even my age, will be running. No big deal. But we are so easily limited, constrained by our expectations, by what others expect of us. In his culture Jesus’s expectation for women, in fact for anyone at the bottom of the scale, was remarkable. He simply refused to be bound by expectations, not least in what people expected of themselves. Instead he could see their potential, not just their position. In fact, we read how at one time Jesus stood and looked at his disciples. No doubt the Pharisees, no doubt we would have seen a group of uneducated enthusiasts with limited ability. Not Jesus though: he saw them differently. “But he looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.’” (Matthew 19:26) Simon the fisherman was one of these. He would have been surprised as everyone else when his brother first brings him to Jesus, “who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas.’” (which is translated Peter. (John 1:42). Not that Simon lived up to his name, not until he was filled with the pentecostal Holy Spirit following the resurrection of Jesus. And the New Testament is filled with people rising above expectations: that’s how the church grew. And continues to grow with ordinary people doing extraordinary things in Christ's name. The secret? God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to anyone who chooses to lay down their life and follow Christ. To quote the evangelist Charles Swindoll: “When God is involved, anything can happen. Be open!”
And that includes us.