One world record that will never be broken.

It is the most enduring world record in the history of sport. It will never be broken and will be taken to the grave by the select few athletes who were fortunate to have achieved the momentous feat.

The world record was set on a sultry evening at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, India, just moments after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Yes, the world record was set after the completion of the officially sanctioned events and was thus shrouded in secrecy…until now.

Beyond the gaze of the crowd and the glare of the TV cameras, and far removed from the world’s media, a special world record performance took place which will remain in the hearts and minds of the small band of heroes who were privileged to have taken part.

The hand-picked athletes snuck out onto the Athletics track before its closure. They heard hastily prepared instructions before assembling into their teams at the top of the 100m track.

No starting blocks. No starters gun. No spikes to be seen and no official race numbers. The covert nature of the record attempt necessitated such measures.

Go!

They were off, 4 finely-tuned athletes leapt from the starting line and strained every sinew to propel themselves at break neck speed down the track. After 25 metres they passed a biro to their team mate and yelled furiously into their ear to Run, Run, Run…and this they did.

One team established a small lead and left the third and fourth place teams in their wake, but a flying second leg charge from team two drew them level by the time the biros were passed into the hands of the third runners at the 50 metre mark.

The team in third then sailed into second with a silky smooth baton change and the third leg runner of the team which had changed in first place appeared to stumble. Was it a fall a hamstring, a calf strain? It appeared to be a simple cramp, and their hopes were dashed.

The remaining three teams continued to battle for supremacy in what was now a tightly-contested race worthy of a world record and eternal glory. A neck and neck tussle had ensued before the final biro change just 25 metres from the finish line.

The small band of onlookers were now cheering themselves hoarse and their cries merged with the shouts from the teammates of the final leg runners. They inched closer and closer to the finish line. Despite the closeness of the race and the monumental efforts of every competitor, only one team could win and claim this auspicious and unbeatable world record.

Two teams now edged stride by stride to the line and barely a whisker separated the two champion athletes striving to etch their names into history forever more.

5 metres, 4, 3, 2, 1 and a final desparate lunge delivered one team to victory just a breath ahead of another team in second and a different team in third.

The victors rejoiced and celebrated in unison, sending their cheers into the night sky and up to the heavens. They had won. They had conquered. They were giants of the sport.

They were heroes.

There’s nothing worse than fourth place at a major championship, and so it was on this sultry night in Delhi.

The 4 x 25 metre relay had been run and won.

What is the world record?

Actually, I have no idea. No one had a stopwatch on the race and even if they had I doubt they could have recorded an accurate finishing time, let alone have it ratified by the IAAF. The event was such a crazy blur of activity that capturing a reliable finishing time was impossible.

The names of the record holders have been lost to history as well, such was the manic energy and sheer delerium which engulfed the participants.

The medal ceremony did take place, as did drug testing. Traces of caffeine were certainly found in the majority of competitors, and traces of alcohol would certainly have been found in the competitors if the testing had taken place a few hours later.

While the finishing time and the names of the athletes passed into the night sky, it is fair in this instance to say that sport was the winner.

Image: Charles Deluvio

Alvin and Calvin vs. Carl and Carlos.

Alvin and Calvin Harrison and Carl Ernest and Carlos Ernesto Morgan have a lot in common. Both sets of twins are identical and both attended college in the United States. Both favour sprints and all four men represented their country in Athletics.

So, who would win a head to head competition between the families?

Firstly, we would have to decide on an event. We would have to choose neutral sporting territory.

While both sets of twins excelled in sprinting, Alvin and Calvin specialised in the 400m while Carl and Carlos enjoyed success over 100 and 200 metres, as well as long jump and triple jump.

Should we throw in a jumping contest? The Harrison boys only competed on the track, but I bet they are handy jumpers.

Perhaps a race over 300 metres?

What about the age difference?

The Harrison brothers were born on January 20, 1974, and the Morgan siblings on August 25, 1986, so some concessions may have to be made for the gap in ages.

We must then choose a venue.

The Harrisons hail from Orlando, Florida USA, while the Morgans were born and raised in Georgetown on the Cayman Islands. The Harrison siblings attended North Salinas High School in California and Hartnell College (Calvin), while the Morgan boys left home for Lindsey Wilson College, then Middle Tennessee State University, both in the USA.

The Cayman Islands seems to be the best site for an Athletic showdown. Why, because the Cayman Islands are much more beautiful than Orlando.

Having chosen the event and the venue, we can now examine historical records to compile a form guide for the competition.

Alvin and Calvin became the first twins to win a gold medal together in the same relay team when they combined with Michael Johnson and Antonio Pettigrew in the 4 x 400m relay at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Alvin ran the first leg and Calvin the third, both of them wearing state of the art bodysuits.

Alvin won individual silver in the 400m behind Johnson in Sydney, and also won gold in the relay at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. During his first relay gold medal victory, Alvin ran a strong second leg to ensure victory for a depleted US team.

Unfortunately, the brothers’ history making feat was annulled in 2008 when Pettigrew confessed to using performance enhancing drugs, and the quartet lost their medals. Calvin himself failed a drug test at the 2003 US Championship and was suspended from Athletics for two years.

Alvin also embroiled himself in drug-related controversy. He served a four year suspension due to circumstantial evidence of using a banned substance. He attempted a comeback in 2008, this time competing for the Dominican Republic, the birth country of his wife.

Under the new flag, he ran the 400m heats at the 2009 World Championships in Athletics and placed fourth with his new countrymen in the 4 x 400m relay at the 2010 IAAF World Indoor Championships.

Carl and Carlos combined in the 4 x 100m relay at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games where the Cayman Islands team was disqualified. In long jump qualifying heats, Carl jumped 7.46, and Carlos…7.47. They entered the same event in Glasgow four years later. Carl finished 10th in the long jump in the Pan American Games 2011.

Head to Head

Another method for measuring comparative excellence is to compare personal bests.

 CarlCarlosAlvinCalvin
100m10.7710.8910.5210.69
200m21.4921.9720.4120.57
400m48.5949.0944.0944.64
Long jump8.027.87  
Triple jump15.9614.68  
300m  32.00 

Since Alvin hung up his spikes, he has led high performance programs across various sports in the Dominican Republic and the United States.

Calvin, meanwhile, ended up homeless in 2009. He lost his life savings fighting his athletic suspension and insisting the substance he took was not on the banned substance list. He had secured work as a personal trainer after retiring from competition, but lost this work and struggled to support his wife and four kids. While his family sought shelter in a refuge, Calvin wandered the streets at night.

Alvin and Calvin co-authored a book called Go to Your Destiny, recounting their experience with homelessness before their Olympic victories.

Carl and Carlos both studied Health, Fitness and Wellness and continue to work in this field.

The biggest question which remains unanswered is, does Carlos Ernesto speak Spanish?

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Nigga, why did you lose?

“Nigga, why did you lose?”

The athlete stared in disbelief.

His hulking, dark-skinned frame slumped on the barriers separating the journalists from the media. Muscles bulged from every limb under his USA team kit and sweat dripped from his face, down his neck and over the sinews and protruding veins of his finely-tuned physique.

Did he just say that, read the expression on his face. The sprinter glanced from right to left to scan the reaction on the faces of other media in attendance and confirm what he had just heard.

Maybe he’d misheard. Maybe the physical and emotional exhaustion of an Olympic semi-final had caught up with him. Maybe the disappointment of failing to qualify for a final that he was good enough to win, and the realisation that years and years of training and sacrifice had amounted to nothing, caused him to misinterpret the question from the Chinese journalist.

But no. He had not misunderstood the question. The American (whose name I don’t remember) would leave the Beijing Olympic Games with bad memories, and this would be one of them.

The local reporter hadn’t meant to use the N word. He hadn’t intended to question a black athlete by using the word which has accompanied years of racism, oppression and discrimination throughout the world, especially in the country whose flag sat emblazoned on the athlete’s singlet.

The N word he had used was “NaGe” or “nage”. This Chinese word translates as ‘that one’ into English, and is used to connect sentences or phrases, or to fill a pause in conversation in everyday Chinese communication. It serves the same function as ‘um’ or ‘like’ in English. It is used a million times a day by Chinese speakers and has absolutely no racial or offensive meaning in English, because it has no meaning in English.

Unfortunately, when it is pronounced in connected speech, it sounds exactly like the N word, and that is what the athlete heard from the reporter. It was simply a very unfortunate example of a word being lost in translation.

It's hard to be subtle in a second language.

The second mistake the reporter made was asking a blunt and direct question to a visibly upset Olympian.

The meaning of the question was appropriate, the wording was not. The journalist was tasked with gauging the athlete’s response to his poor performance. The reporter was supposed to find out how and why the athlete performed below his usual standard and thus failed to qualify for the final.

The reporter could have asked:

“Tell us what happened out there”

“You would have expected a better result, can you explain what happened?”

“Obviously that’s not what you hoped for, is there a reason for your performance?”

Maybe the athlete was ill or carrying an undisclosed injury into the race. Maybe he was excessively nervous or had over trained in the days leading up to the event. We might have found out why, but not by using the words the local reporter used.

To be fair to the local journalist, he was not actually a journalist. By his own admission, he also didn’t know much about sport, let alone Athletics, which is the most prominent sport at multi-sport events such as the Olympic Games. The local reporter was a university lecturer, in a subject far removed from sport (Engineering from memory) and had somehow landed the role of mixed zone reporter in the Bird’s Nest.

After the incident, I tried to explain to my colleague how that word is problematic, but a lifelong habit is hard to break in a day, and he was not the most receptive of the local staff.

I couldn’t help thinking, how can a country of more than one billion people not find a handful of reporters who understand sport, understand the media and have a firm grasp of English or other languages?

Other reporters eventually leapt in and steered the interview towards an explanation for the unexpected performance, then the athlete slumped off to the changerooms to commiserate.

What did the athlete say in response to the unfortunate question?

Nothing

Image: Chau Cedric