CLASS, AND HOW TO ACQUIRE IT

Posted on Thursday, August 28th, 2008 at 4:56 pm and is filed under Archive, Debate | 0

It’s been gratifying to get a bit of support for my views on the way Tirunesh runs her races. These folks at least seem to have read and understood the broader implications of my critique. To them and, of course to my detractors, I offer a story from a bygone age, the better to illustrate more fully my appreciation of runners typified by Pamela Jelimo back to the inimitable Filbert Bayi, to name but two.

ArabianKnightBigIn Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, sub-titled An Inquiry into Values, author Robert Pirsig spends many pages trying to dissect the concept of quality, and ultimately decides that it is indefinable. Yet Pirsig in his alter-ego of Phaedrus (Wolf), says that quality is something we instinctively recognise.

Around the time of the book’s publication thirty odd years ago, my pals started using the term ‘class’ in an all too definable fashion, quite different from traditional English notions of social divisions. It tended to be mostly in the negative, however, ie, someone who was too loud, or didn’t pay their round, or generally didn’t behave themselves as we saw fit was dismissed as having ‘no-class’.

This essentially is my criticism of Tirunesh. If she had class, she would do her share of the work, instead of acting like a parasite.

Now, I haven’t gone into potential gender issues here, ie some women believing they were born to follow. It’s bad enough having the guys on my back, more than a few of whom incidentally seem to imply in private emails that I should go easy on Tirunesh, ‘because she’s cute’. Ho hum. However, to get to the story….

For a brief period, beginning in the late 1980s, there was a late season, low-key Grand Prix meeting in India, initially in Delhi, then in Pune. The idea was the introduce world-class athletics to Indians, so a coterie of western stars was invited, on the promise of a guided tour and a good payday for a relatively ‘easy’ competition. In 1989, the supposed star of the show was Carl Lewis, who filled the pages of a range of journals for days beforehand, then contrived to lose the 100 metres to a little known Austrian, Andreas Berger, whose later claim to fame was getting himself banned for drugs.

But the real star of the Jawarhalal Nehru Stadium in Delhi that evening was Saïd Aouita. The Moroccan was nearing the end of his illustrious career, and could have contented himself with loping around the 1500 metres in something adjacent to 3min 40sec, and the unsophisticated audience would have been none the wiser. But Aouita had other ideas. He got a colleague to pace him for a couple of laps, before striking out on his own, racing the final 700 metres alone, and winning by the length of the finishing straight in just under 3min 35sec, on a humid evening with temperatures in the mid-thirties celsius.

The crowd instinctively recognised they were seeing something special, and rose to cheer him to the echo. At the meeting hotel later, I asked him why he had bothered to put in so much effort, when a sprint in front of the grandstand would have produced the same result. Serious for once in a social situation, he replied, “When the crowd pays to see Aouita, they deserve to see the real Aouita”.

Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is class.

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