29 AUG 2004 General News Athens, Greece

Dunaway's Athenian Column - Day Ten

Jim Dunaway who has attended every Olympic Games since Melbourne in 1956 brings his own weathered eye on what’s been happening in and around the last day of the Athletics events at the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad.

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Rats!

This was supposed to be a wrap-up for these Olympic columns, perhaps reflecting upon the high points of the past ten days and letting my thoughts drift idly wherever they might happen to go.

As they say in New York, 'Fuggedaboudit!'

Some 36 kilometres into the men's marathon, the 301st and final event of these Games of the 28th modern Olympiad, some clown comes out of the crowd and grabs the leader, Vanderlei Lima of Brazil, and shoves him halfway across the road and into the crowd on the other side.

Talk about a shock! Lima, a 2:08:31 marathoner, had taken over the race at 20 km, and over the next ten kilometres, while the sun was setting, had built up a 46-second lead over a group of eight runners. Between 30 and 35 km, three of the pursuers set out to chase Lima down, Stefano Baldini, a top Italian marathoner, Paul Tergat of Kenya, the World record holder, and Meb Keflezighi, an Eritrean-born American.

The three of them had cut the margin to 28 seconds at 35 kilometres, and they were gaining on Lima, whose face bore the signs of fatigue.

Then this cretin -- wearing a beret, a white shirt under a sort of vest, a pleated skirt and knee socks (possibly a national or folk costume from somewhere), and with a hand-printed sign on his back, popped out of the spectators lined five-deep along Vas. Konstantinou Avenue.

He really plowed into Lima, and drove him right into a bunch of startled fans, and it must have cost Lima 10, maybe 15 seconds. Apart from that, if you've ever been out running had and suddenly tripped and fallen, you know what a shock that can be. Imagine how much more of a shock it was to Lima, who had already run 35 km in weather around 30 Celsius (85-90 F.).

And of course he had no idea what was happening As he said, "I didn't know what he had with him.  I was afraid, and I had lost my rhythm. I had to get back to the rhythm on the street. It was very difficult."

A couple of minutes later, at exactly two hours into the race, Baldini strode by Lima, and a few seconds later, so did Keflezghi. Baldini pulled steadily away and won by 34 seconds in 2:10:55.  Thank goodness Lima was able to hold on for the bronze medal.

Look, I think Baldini would have won the gold medal anyway. And I think Keflezghi would have taken the silver, although Lima would certainly have finished closer to Keflezghk's 2:11.29 than the 2:12:11 he was credited with.

A Dutch friend tells me that a guy wearing a similar costume ran out on the course at the Formula One auto race in Silverstone last year. If it was the same guy, too bad no-one ran over him.

Once, when I was trying to set up a professional marathoning circuit in the 1970s, my biggest worry was what might happen if a spectator interfered with one of the leading runners and affected the result and the prize money.

Professional marathoning with no help from me got going few years later thanks to the genius of Fred Lebow.

And for the first 25 years or so, my nightmare never happened. Now it has.

The guy who did it was obviously making a protest, or a statement of some sort; I couldn't read what the sign on his back said from the picture we had. But we've got to stop this kind of stuff from happening.

I think this guy should be punished in some really drastic way that will scare off anyone else who might think of trying the same stunt.

Put him in the stocks at a major marathon every month and let anyone who wants to slap his face. Or have him publicly whipped (10 or 20 lashes would be fine) just before the start of a major marathon every month for the rest of his life.

He has taken dead aim at sport, and dead aim at the Olympics.

Let's give it back to him in spades.

Jim