The Bob Beamon Moment

imageOn the afternoon of October 18th 1968, in Mexico City our world was about to witness the “historic moment” of sports history.

The world was bubbling and very revolutionary then. It was the late 60’s and Vietnam, Paris and Prague had all brought people on the streets. Flower power was asserting itself and rebels (with causes) were standing for their rights. Muhammad Ali and Bob Dylan were each leading their own revolutionary battles. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated for their respective causes. Then there was the black power movement and only one day before, two black American athletes had been thrown out of the Mexico Olympics for demonstrating the Black Power salute on the medal stand.

On this afternoon Bob Beamon was about to participate in the Long Jump Final. The world record had moved 22 cms in 33 years, since the record jump of Jesse Owens. Beamon was lucky to get through, as he had two foul jumps in the semis and just scraped through on the third. No one, literally no one in the world, could predict what was about to go down.

On the first jump, Beamon took a deep breath and tore down the track, hit the board perfectly and soared into the air, landing deep and for a split second his bottom grounded, cutting inches out of his jump. Nevertheless, despite this reverse, the jump clearly was long. It was so long that the automatic tape measure was unable to authenticate this number. So a manual measure was done, which took some 20 minutes of confirmation. When the result was flashed on the board and across the world, it beggared belief. Beamon had broken the record and his own best by 55 cms. When the result came, Beamon himself collapsed on the track in some sort of seizure. Beamon’s jump knocked out long jump as a competitive event, for decades. It is almost 50 years to that event and only Mike Powell has once out-jumped this number. The Bob Beamon Moment is the single biggest sporting surprise in history.

Cut to today and the Rio Olympics 2016. Wayde van Niekerk came to Rio as a good 400 metre runner. Niekerk had won the World Championship last year, but Kirani James and Merritt, previous Olympic champions were considered still better runners. Niekerk would expect to be on the medals stand, though he had a mediocre qualifying round. When the lot was drawn, it put him in lane 8 ahead of everyone, and so his goose was cooked. It meant he would have to run the race blind, ahead of everyone else. The best Olympic time running from lane 8 ever recorded was 44.66 seconds. Michael Johnson world record stood at 43.18, recorded in 1999. James and Merritt felt confident that running from mid lanes, the real battle was between them now.

Niekerk had no option but to go full blast from the start. But 400 while being a sprint, does exhaust one and one generally ends the race in such a situation as a walking dead. So in the face of this full blast, at 200 metres, James and Merritt (both running fast times also) would fully expect to haul Niekerk in. Infact, if you run the video on the net, it is amazing that Niekerk is so far ahead, that the video actually does not capture him for a bit. Around 350 you can see Niekerk slowing and then most extraordinarily, he kicks on, building a new lead and to the finish. When the result came out, it was 43.03 some 0.15 below the WR, but remember the best lane 8 time. That is what makes this extraordinary. Niekerk ran the second 200 metres faster than the first 200.

The best way to gauge this performance, is to look at Usain Bolts reaction when the time is announced. Bolt was waiting for his 100 metres final, where subsequently he also created history. Bolt also left his pre-run interview and went to hug and congratulate van Niekerk. All these videos are on the internet for one to see. So now is this another great, shocking moment in sports history? It is shocking enough for journalists, around the world, to question it in the press conference. It is shocking enough to make ones spine tingle and I just hope it goes down in history as one of those Bob Beamon Moments.

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A Photographer Laments

imageThere are many people who are warm humans. They feel, have passions and they live to try and change the world. Out of such individuals, there are a few who have been given special skills by Allah (swt) to fulfil their calling. And then right at the end of this spectrum of humanity, out of these gifted individuals, come those who are very successful in exploiting these special skills. By the nature of elimination, these last individuals are very few and far between. When you come across them you know. They not only have greatness, but they touch you without even trying and you know that these are kings and high nobles, who rarely walk this earth.

I watched a fascinating interview by Steven Sackur, in HardTalk, with Don McCullin, the legendary photographer. Here is someone who has lived life on the edge. Touching eighty, Don, has been on photographic assignments since 1959. A vast majority of his work has been in the heartland of tragedy.

Don was in Aleppo in Syria fairly recently and is now planning one last visit to Iraq. In reality he retired several years ago from these wars and crises photographic assignments. But, from what I could gather, he is addicted to this passion and keeps going back, though clearly his body cannot be backing him at this age.

As Don accounted, he has survived over a thousand dead colleagues who were on similar assignments in these fifty plus years. They all risked their lives, sacrificed on the alter of their passion and were driven to bring reality to the world. Terrible deeds go on in the name of humanity and these people, who are right in the middle of war zones, risk their own lives to bring reports to us. Don himself once escaped death, when his Nikon camera stopped a bullet. Sometimes you are born lucky.

So why did Don do what he did? He was dyslexic, a school leaver after his fathers early death and then never qualified as a photographer for the RAF. On the card was a clerical existence, in various newspapers in London. But fate was not going to allow a latent skill to go to waste. It intervened. Dons photograph of a London gang in 1959, made it big and suddenly he realised that there was a place where he could make a career. He then did a personal assignment, photographing the events around the making of the Berlin Wall in 1961. This was in the heart of the Cold War and the happening event. From thereon, Dons walk through and into History was an inevitable event.

Notwithstanding the strength, a great will to make a difference and a very brave heart, it is Dons conclusions which I want to record here. This man has hoped as few must have. He kept going back into tragedy willingly all his life. Few of us would even have the will to go back for a second assignment. He once saw men runover by a tank in Vietnam, when he said they were like a Persian carpet on the floor, when the tank had done its work. He once picked a lame old lady in a fire-zone and saved her, at personal risk. This photographer hoped and felt.

Dons lament after watching the recent refugee crisis in Europe was, that nothing had changed. Humans are still as bad as they were fifty years ago. All this talk of wars to make things better is hogwash. Today even the Cold War might be back at the forefront, with Russia facing off against Nato in Syria. Just like he saw when he started photography in the late 50’s.

When Don McCullin spent a week in Aleppo, he said “I wanted a last look at what was going on, to make sure it was not a dream. It was exactly like Beirut, streets full of Kalashnikovs. Little had changed.” The propensity to suffer had not diminished. “I felt an enormous sense of sadness and disappointment. NATO, the EU, democracy how little it has achieved. Russia creating a new Cold War. Whats there to be joyful about? Nothing.”

A photographer laments, when he has seen his life’s work wasted. His last few thoughts, “I am so ashamed, watching this human race”.

Reference: Steven Sackur HardTalk interview and Alastair Sooke interview. Biography from various internet sites. Photograph from slideshare.net

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