As Sebastian Vettel demonstrated recently, a sport without sportsmanship is pure competition: selfish, like trading the stock market, devoid of feeling, sensibility or kindness. And we don’t want any of that. Today, sport is an institution that transcends barriers of sex, race, religion, class, age… whatever lines the enemies of freedom would draw battle along. Thankfully, for the most part we as a nation appear to have abandoned hostility in the name of sport, and embraced it for the cultural treasure it is. At the very forefront of this ethos is running: a sport that so often brings people together through a common goal. This was very much apparent when I visited the 2013 London Marathon Expo with my friend and fellow blogger, drumble24, earlier this week.
The Excel centre in London’s docklands was full of like-minded people, albeit trying to sell us stuff, but all enthused about running. It was a great atmosphere of which to be a part, and as we wandered around the stalls of merchandise, with their the bewildering array of insoles, tape, gel, supplements and other performance enhancing gear, the enormity of the task ahead of my friend began to sink in. Incredible excitement was mixed with feint hint of absolute terror. Despite this, Gemma’s mission was clear: to raise money for CRY, a charity that raises awareness of conditions that can lead to sudden cardiac death in young people. Several months ago, like so many others the world over, she had decided to push herself far beyond anything she had ever attempted before, and run the 2013 London Marathon in support of her cause. Gemma knew it was worth the sacrifice.
Only on the 21st April 2013, there was another cause to champion. As tens of thousands of runners fell silent on the start line of the 2013 London Marathon, the memory of lives shattered by recent events in Boston, MA was at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Six days ago, I had sat aghast at the events that were unfolding in the USA. I simply couldn’t comprehend what my eyes saw and ears told me. Close to tears and in sate of shock, I knocked back a bottle of wine went to bed, hoping it had all been a horrible accident. When morning came, awaking from a dreadful night’s sleep, the news readers diligently and methodically set the gruesome stage. It was a week of events that in many ways would be stranger than fiction.
However, following the gun shots, car chases, press conferences, the fear, conspiracy theories and eventual jubilation on the streets, and despite being separated by thousands of miles, the invisible bond between runners the world over was ever present. The people of Boston were not alone: the 2013 London Marathon was upon us. As was quoted this morning by the man from the BBC, if you’re trying to break the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong people to target. A new stage had been set, upon which would be showcased the very virtues that drive the world forward. Unity, charity, endeavour, selflessness and sacrifice. Tens of thousands of athletes would once again be united by their common goal.
Today, I sat in awe and admiration at the events that unfolded on the streets of London. Crowds of cheering spectators, sometimes six deep, lined the entire 26.2 mile route defying the rhetoric of hate. The streets of Greenwich were swelled with thousands upon thousands of jubilant onlookers, taking to roof-tops, perched on top of bus shelters. It seemed everyone wanted to witness this event that could so easily have been cast into shadow. London would not and could not allow that to happen, and watching from my sofa, I wished I was there… many of my friends were, running, cheering and enjoying the carnival atmosphere. Whilst no man is a hero every day, everyone who crossed that start line wearing their black ribbon whatever their eventual result, or who cheered from the crowd, or piloted a tube train, handed out a bottle of Lucozade or strapped up a sprained ankle was a hero today.
Once more, running was bringing people together, and changing lives in the process. Gemma’s cause is just one of so many unique and moving stories, and today London along with the running world, was united as one city. One community, with one voice, under the same blue sky: a voice of love above hate.
If ever there was a way forward, surely this is it?