Where Your Dreams Become Reality
Rojo Speaks: Thursday, August 8, 2003
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic -
Let's start at the beginning. Mid-day Wednesday, my parents and I had just landed in the Dominican Republic as we're here to watch my twin brother, Weldon, achieve one of his longtime goals of representing the US on the track in international competition. The #1 goal that every kid who gets involved in track and field is to make represent their country - albeit in the Olympics not the PanAms - but this is still an accomplishment he was very proud of so we came to support him. Anyway, I was telling my parents that the Dominican Republic had one exceptional track and field athlete - 400 meter hurdler extraordinaire Felix Sanchez. Sanchez was born in the New York to Dominican parents so he could choose to represent either country in international competition. He chose to represent the Dominican and I was telling my parents that I thought he did so because he wasn't sure if he'd ever be good enough to run for the US. I told them wasn't 100% sure the reasons behind his choosing to run for the Dominican but (given my American upbringing) I knew he certainly could make a lot more running for the US so it certainly made sense.
I told my parents I bet he was excited to run in front of the hometown fans but I openly wondered if he regretted his decision because undoubtedly Nike only pays him a fraction of what he'd earn if he was a gold medal favorite for the country with the most disposable income in the free world - the U S of A and not the relatively poor Dominican Republic. I basically said to my parents, "What a shame. It sucks that he's undoubtedly losing out financially by choosing the Dominican. I wonder if he regrets it."
Shame on me.
Fast forward a few hours. After exiting a cab near the sporting complexes, we ask several people where the "atletismo" (that's Spanish for "athletics" which is European for track and field) is. Whenever we said "atletismo", we basically were greeted with an instant scream of "Felix Sanchez" but the rest of our question was seemingly ignored. I walk up to the ticket counter, ask how much track tickets are and the guy tells me he thinks Felix may have already run. I tell him that I'm an American and just trying to get into the stadium (as I didn't even know the 400 meter final was Wednesday night) and we eventually acquire some tickets.
No need for tickets as we approach the stadium and the crowd is going beserk. No one is taking tickets as one of the fences was knocked down as the locals were desperate to see Sanchez win gold on the home soil. The stadium was packed, every aisle, and every seat was completely filled. The main walkway was four or five deep (well that's what my brother told me as I could get nowhere near the inside of the stadium). Others were hanging from the rafters. It was absolutely crazy. (Evidently, it was similarly crazy at the basketball arena. To get another viewpoint of how crazy it was, read about the fans at the basketball game here.)
People literally were backed up 20 or 30 meters from any view of the track (I know that as that's where I "watched" the 400 hurdles (with a view of the Jumbotron)) but they were absolutely full of glee as Sanchez was about to enter the blocks. At last, one of the long-time unsolved questions in my mind of, "How could anyone ever be trampled at a European soccer match (couldn't you just get up?)?" had instantly been answered.
The roar of the crowd reached an incredible height and I correctly assumed the race had started. Pandemonium broke out about 48 seconds later (48.19 actually) as "Superman" won the gold. It was truly amazing to see the excitement and passion of the crowd. The patriotic people were incredibly proud that one of their countrymen had won Gold in the Games they had worked so hard to put on.
I was quite honestly honored and amazed to witness the amazing spectacle. I instantly thought of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games where Cathy Freeman likewise fulfilled a country's expectations by winning gold. No wonder she doesn't have the desire to compete any more. Nothing, and I repeat nothing can top what I witnessed last night. Equal it, perhaps, but not top it.
So it's only natural that Freeman lost the passion for the sport as it's impossible to find something that could inspire or raise the emotions like competing in front of a stadium of absolutely crazed and patriotic fans. No amount of money can possibly top that.
It's just too bad that ESPN, CNN, etc. as well as nearly all of the newspapers in America weren't here to see what happened last night. It certainly was the most significant and uplifting sporting event of the day, maybe even the year. Rumor has it that the organizing committee tried to give away the rights to Pan Am Games track to anyone in America who wanted it but there were no takers.
Long live the CBC (they're covering the event in Canada).
But instead of being depressed about the lack of coverage, I will fall asleep early this morning very encouraged. Encouraged by just how absolutely amazing a spectactle track and field can be at its very best. The passion and the emotions it can raise is simply incredible.
We just have to find a way to properly market the sport.
To all of you kids out there, keep dreaming of representing your country. Nothing can top it. The Olympics are obviously the ultimate but you should think twice before you turn down any invitation to represent your homeland.
To all of the Americans who bypassed a chance to come to the Pan Ams so they could chase qualifying times in Europe, it's too bad you couldn't some how have found a way to fit both Europe and the Pan Ams into your schedule. I guess I can't blame you though as I myself barely knew what the Pan Ams were before coming over here. Well that's a slight exageration but they're easy to miss in the States as they get basically zero publicity. That's a shame as its events like the Pan Ams, not time trials in Europe, that serve as the only hope to revive the fortunes of our beloved sport.
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Editor's Note: Robert Johnson, a.k.a. "Rojo", is best known for being the co-founder of LetsRrun.com as well as the men's distance coach at Cornell University. Robert has been running all of his life, but only competing seriously since the Fall of 1997 as a series of injuries curtailed his high school career and prevented him from running in college. Since returning to competitive running, Robert progressed quickly and just missed out on qualifying for the 2000 US Men's Olympic Marathon Trials by running a 2:23:11 marathon at the 2000 Las Vegas Marathon. A former high school math teacher, Robert has covered track and field for The Washington Post.