March 2004

PICK YOUR FAVORITE DAY OF CELEBRATION: Christmas, your birthday, Thanksgiving, the Summer Solstice, whatever. One thing that makes it special is that it only comes once a year. It stays fresh and wonderful, never getting tired. There’s a parallel in the track & field world and that’s the Olympic Games. The thing that makes it special is that it only comes every four years, which helps it stay fresh, wonderful and never tired. If we had one every year, it just wouldn’t be the same.

And for me, the best thing about the Olympics is not the competition itself but the runup to the Games. Just like a little kid who starts peeking under the Christmas tree as soon as Thanksgiving is out of the way, as soon as the calendar turns to January 1st every four years, I start looking forward to the overwhelming joys to come. Instead of a mere month of anticipation I get seven or eight.

Every meet result, every injury, every unhappy coincidence takes on added significance. As I gaze through the pages of this issue my mind can’t help but leap ahead.

Marion Jones returns and while it was great to see her win at Millrose, my thoughts focus on Athens and how many medals of what color she’s going to earn this time around. When Ethiopian rivals Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele put up sterling indoor times my first thoughts are about how great it would be to see them in a head-to-head clash in Greece. Can Geb win an unprecedented third straight 10K gold or has his former pupil’s star now ascended too high?

I read about Gail Devers and how she might not even essay a chance for her fifth Olympic team and I marvel, wondering how one could ever get so tired of the experience that they wouldn’t have to drag your cold dead fingers from around your starting blocks.

I read about the performances of hot college kids like Jerry Harris, Nick Willis and Alistair Cragg and I wonder if they’re ready to make the huge leap up to success on the international stage.

And at the high school level I look at a Xavier Carter, or Elzie Coleman, or Shalonda Solomon or Scott Sellers, and while I know I should be content to see them just make it to the Olympic Trials, I want at least one of them to be that rare gem of a wunderkind who makes it beyond Sacramento and gets to play on the biggest stage of all.

And when I’m off on these flights of fancy I can—even if just momentarily—ignore the dark clouds of drug abuse that hang heavier over the Olympic skies than ever before. It’s not something that should be ignored, and I don’t do it on purpose. Drug abuse is a scourge we must rid ourselves of, but I plead guilty to once in a while lifting my head out of the muck and concentrating on the bright side of things. Why let the rotten few spoil it for the good many?

So you’ll excuse the dreamy look on my face for the next few months. I’ll be having a nonstop Christmas celebration. I hope the gifts you receive are as good as mine.