Queensland is anticipating a massive jobs boom after the International Olympic Committee announced it will replace volunteer positions with paid positions at the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are expected to be held in Brisbane.
“The Olympic Games cannot take place without a volunteer workforce,” announced the IOC.
“For many years this global sporting festival has taken advantage of the kind-hearted, patriotic and dedicated people of host cities to conduct the events, and to make the IOC one of the wealthiest organisations in the world. In 2032, this will change. Our organisation will draw upon its considerable wealth to pay every single person who works at the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games.”
The shock decision means the IOC will no longer reward volunteers with only a garish uniform, free public transport, free tickets to unpopular events and a certificate signed by a random politician.
The Queensland government, meanwhile, is already boasting of record high employment levels.
“We haven’t officially been awarded the games yet,” announced Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, “but no other city seems interested in spending billions of dollars during a global pandemic, so we’re assuming we’ve won the rights to host. The IOC offer means jobs and growth for Brisbane and Queensland, and we welcome the games with open arms into our wonderful state and city.”
The monumental decision means that wages will be awarded to people carrying out tasks such as handing out uniforms and accreditation, directing crowds at train stations, manning information booths and collecting athletes sweaty uniforms, including those who work the entire games without seeing a single athlete or sporting contest.
Queenslanders who volunteered at events such as the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018, and even the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, rushed to social media in response to the announcement. They also flooded government websites with questions about pay, conditions and the application process. The most common question, however, was,
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov – It just rolls off the tongue so well. The road cyclist from Uzbekistan was also known as the Tashkent Terror due to his blistering sprint finishes and wild style. He won the green points jersey in the 1991 Tour de France, and a mountain stage in 1996. How many athletes have a British Rock band named after them?
Nathan Leeper – Nathan is naturally a high jumper. The leaper from the USA finished inside the top 10 at multiple major international events, including a fourth place at the World Indoor Championships in 2001.
Anthony Whiteman – The British runner competed in middle distance events. Every time he lined up in international competitions against a field of mostly African runners, his name was abbreviated to A. Whiteman. Anthony won gold at the 1997 Universiade and bronze at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in the 1500 metres.
Will Power – The name says it all. Australian race car driver who enjoyed success in the IndyCar series.
Zinzan Brooke – I just like the way it sounds. A lot of Kiwis like the way the former All Black played the game of Rugby Union.
Usain Bolt – A marketing dream. Lightning Bolt, world’s fastest human. A signature pose and a charismatic personality. The Jamaican is also a multiple world record holder and international medallist.
Ben Swift – Ben Swift is fast. Just as well. The cyclist won the scratch race at the 2012 Track Cycling World Championships and the British national championships on the road in 2019.
Conor Swift – Ben’s cousin Conor is also a professional cyclist, and is also rather rapid. He won the British road championships in 2018.
Endurance Ojokolo – An athlete with a contradictory name. Endurance competed for Nigeria in the shortest race on the track, the 100m. She was multiple African champion and Olympic finalist.
Cody Rodeo Tyler – Yes, it’s on his birth certificate. Yes, he rides Rodeo. The American bull rider is one of the best in the world and competes on the world Pro Bull Riding circuit. I guess his parents didn’t give him much choice.
Beast Mtawarira (Tendai) – Beast may not appear on Mtawarira’s birth certificate, but the nickname is so appropriate it is how he is known. Tendai was born in Zimbabwe but he is the most capped prop for South Africa’s Springboks, with whom he won the 2019 World Cup.
George Best – The best ever? Some people think so. The northern Irishman won many games and accolades for Manchester United and is regarded as one of the most talented footballers in history.
Bradman Best – What a name to live up to. The young Australian Rugby League player shares a first name with Australia’s most beloved sportpserson, Don Bradman, and his surname indicates he is better than anyone – No pressure
Bastian Schweinsteiger – a guy who sleeps in the pig sty. However, after winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup with Germany and the 2012/13 UEFA Champions League with Bayern Munich, as well as many other titles, I don’t think Bastian sleeps in a pig sty.
Winner Anacona -The Columbian road cyclist enters every race with a positive mindset, and has enjoyed success at international level, including a stage win at the 2014 Vuelta a Espana. ironically, his name is a mistake. It was meant to be Winnen, after cyclist Peter Winnen.
Fuifui MoiMoi – His name rolls off the tongue. He rolled over opposition players. Tongan born ‘Fui’ had a big body, big hair and a big personality which earned him cult status at the Parramatta Eels club in Australia. He also played for New Zealand and Tonga. His brother-in-law is NFL player Star Lotulelei, who also had a name to live up to.
Junior Paulo – Another bullocking prop from the Parramatta Eels, Paulo has represented his homeland of Samoa at international level and was selected in the NSW State of Origin team in 2020. Paulo’s name is significant because if he is Junior, how big is Senior Paulo?
The Kiwi Contingent – New Zealand rugby league players whose names challenge even the sharpest commentators:
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and
The Athlete Formerly Known As: Saif Saaeed Shaheen was formerly known as Stephen Cherono until he swapped allegiance from Kenya to Qatar and won multiple interntaional medals in the 3000m Steeplechase, for which he still holds the world record.
Loris Vergier – The world’s fastest loris. The French downhill mountain biker hurls himself down mountains at ridiculous speeds and won a world junior title in 2014, as well as the most recent UCI World Cup Downhill race.
Sam Hill – The Australian rides a mountain bike very quickly up and down…hills.
Annie Last – A remarkable name for the wrong reasons. Annie rarely finishes last. The experienced British mountain biker and Cyclo-Cross rider belongs to the elite level of women’s cycling and won gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games MTB Cross County.
Carl Ernest and Carlos Ernesto Morgan – Identical twins from the Cayman Islands, who competed in the sprints and jumps and attended the same college in the US, as well as sharing the track at events such as the Commonwealth Games.
Alvin and Calvin Harrison – Another set of identical twins, who became the first twins to win Olympic gold medals together in Athletics when they joined forces in the 4 x 400m relay at the Sydney 2000 games. Alvin won silver in the 400m in Atlanta 1996.
English Gardner – She is American, not English, and she rose to fame as a 100m sprinter, not a gardener. She won multiple national titles, made finals at multiple world championships and Olympic Games, and won Olympic relay gold. Maybe she does enjoy potting around in the backyard?
The International Olympic Committee has made the astounding announcement that the 2030 Winter Olympic Games will be held in the desert, with Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the UAE to co-host the first edition of the games to take place nowhere near a mountain.
When asked to explain the shock decision, the IOC stated bluntly,
“The world will run out of snow.”
“Climate change is warming the globe and melting snow and ice throughout the world, as well as making weather patterns unpredictable. Accurate scientific evidence tells us that there will not be enough deep natural snow on any of the world’s peaks in the near future. As a result, the IOC has been forced to move the prestigious event indoors where athletes will compete on man-made snow.”
The Gulf States were chosen to host the historic sporting event because they already have indoor winter sports facilities such as ice rinks and ski slopes. In addition, their main revenue source, oil, has contributed greatly to the climate crisis which has rendered outdoor competition impossible.
Indoor winter sports venues emulating Ski Dubai will be built throughout the host nations to cater for the vast array of sports which now comprise the Winter Olympic program. Some disciplines, however, look set to be scrapped from the games forever.
The change in venue will not affect sports such as Ice Hockey, Figure Skating, Short Track, Speed Skating and Curling as they already take place indoors, but it will have major implications for the remaining disciplines.
“We have received assurance that Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton will still go ahead,” stated the spokesperson. “The roller coasters that are found in some shopping malls in this part of the world will be reconfigured to hold the sleighs used in these disciplines, allowing spectators to watch the competition from the food court.”
The IOC is also working with the International Ski Federation (FIS) and the host nations to construct suitable indoor venues for disciplines such as Aerial Skiing and Moguls, Ski and Snowboard Cross and Halfpipe, as well as snowboard Parallel Giant Slalom.
“Slopestyle may have to take place on the sand dunes,” conceded the spokesperson, “but at least it offers competitors an entirely new aesthetic for their Instagram posts.”
And what of the future of Big Air?
“Depends how big the airs are.”
Other traditional Winter Olympic disciplines face huge challenges as a result of the climate change induced move to the Middle East. Cross Country Skiing events and biathlon will be carried out on loop courses of 1 kilometre in length, meaning competitors in the 50km Cross Country race will be going round and round and round…
Biathlon competitors, meanwhile, will be forced to complete multiple laps of the 15 metre-long penalty loop every time they miss a target, reminiscent of athletes training during COVID-19 lockdown.
Alpine skiers who excel in the technical forms of the sport, such as Slalom and Giant Slalom, will notice little change to their events, except that they will take place indoors.
Downhill and Super G racers will unfortunately have to look for another sport.
“None of the venues will be tall enough to host a Downhill or Super G race,” stated organisers, “…and you can’t ski down the Burj Khalifa (yet)”
The IOC and FIS had initially considered simply starting downhill races further up mountains to find snow, but this proved unfeasible for many reasons.
“By 2030 snow will be found only on the very, very high mountains and the altitude will harm athletes who are already pushing their bodies to the limit. Also, electronic timing equipment may not work at such heights and the weather is a lot more extreme and unpredictable. Furthermore, chairlifts do not reach these heights, and nobody wants to ride a T Bar for that long. In addition helicopters used in broadcasting and medical emergencies can only fly so high”
As a result, downhill and Super G races will cease to exist in 2030 and beyond.
Critics of the plan argue the organisers should have simply used man-made snow on existing slopes, but organisers reminded them that snowmaking only works when the ground is cold enough.
“Global warming and climate change is heating the ground, so any man-made snow would simply melt, and this event is called the Winter Olympics, not the Muddy Olympics.”
Will major sporting events soon be held only in non-democratic countries?
International sporting events such as the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup may take place only in countries without genuine democracy as governments in democratic countries struggle to justify to their populations the exorbitant cost of hosting these events. Authorities in non-democratic countries, on the other hand, do not need to justify anything to their subjects.
The citizens of democratic nations are increasingly aware of the enormous financial costs and disruption required to host international competitions. The same people are also aware of the lack of funding directed towards more immediate needs in their countries such as schools, universities, hospitals and other infrastructure.
Do major sporting events make a profit?
The question is not so much whether major sporting events make a profit, or if they benefit countries in other ways. The question is whether governments can persuade their populations that the events make a profit or benefit the nation.
Can governments continue to justify the construction of enormous sporting stadia when government schools are underfunded?
Can governments continue to justify accommodating the world’s athletes when hospitals are underfunded?
Can governments justify spending $118 million on opening or closing ceremonies when public transport is insufficient or non-existant?
Brazil highlighted this contradiction recently. The country hosted both the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 despite a struggling economy, a broken public health system, grossly underfunded public schools and crumbling infrastructure. Many educated Brazilians are still waiting for the promised economic and social benefits of these two events. Many South Africans have undoubtedly been asking the same questions since 2010.
Have you ever volunteered at a major sporting event?
Would you volunteer at a major sporting event?
As everyday people learn more about the corruption and lavish lifestyles of the officials at major sporting organisations, surely they will be less inclined to jump into a garish uniform and stand for hours outside a train station directing fans to venues – for no pay.
Many volunteers have thankless jobs. They never see a moment of sport. The never see their sporting heroes in person. In return, they get to keep their uniform and receive a generic thankyou letter from a random politician. Major sporting events cannot go ahead without an army of volunteers. Could FIFA or the IOC afford to pay every volunteer at one of their international events?
Rulers of non-democratic nations, meanwhile, are better able to persuade citizens to volunteer.
Patriotism drives many volunteers to offer their vital services, but will it be enough in the future?
Patriotism drove young people to volunteer for the army in World War I for example, but many of today’s youth do not share this patriotic fervour. Can the same shift in attitude be applied to the sporting sphere, and would young people choose to volunteer for a sporting event?
Volunteers at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games spoke of their national pride, and continue to reference this as a motivation and reward for volunteering at the games. I myself experienced some of this patriotism when I volunteered. That said, I volunteered in the media, with the best seats in the house, at the Athletics, and spent the games interviewing athletes. I also sat on the finish line, a few rows back, when Cathy Freeman won gold. Most volunteers were not so lucky.
Patriotism also persuaded many Brazilians to eventually support, or at least stop criticising, the hosting of the 2014 World Cup. The government was canny enough to know that the country’s obsession with the world game would eventually silence many of its critics. This enthusiasm surely waned when they lost 7 – 1 to Germany on home soil.
The public is also much more likely to congratulate or tolerate a government’s decision to host a major event in that country wins. Winning elite sporting competitions also costs a lot of money.
Patriotism will still persuade many citizens to support international competitions in the future. Australians were elated to hear that their country will share the FIFA Women’s World Cup with New Zealand in 2023, but by that time will Australia still be a democracy?
A quick internet search reveals that many major events scheduled for the next five years will be held in countries such as Japan, Switzerland, France and Italy, which are universally accepted as democratic. Other events will be held in the USA, but as long as Trump is in office can the USA claim to be democratic?
It’s worth noting that all of these counties were awarded the competitions before the COVID-19 pandemic. When the total financial and social cost of the virus is calculated, will citizens support any future bids for major sporting events?
Non-democratic countries don’t need to justify anything to their subjects. China, Russia and the Gulf States are now hosting many of the world’s major sporting events and their governments operate unencumbered by public sentiment.
China has hosted many major sporting events and will do so in the near future. They entered this space by hosting the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and have hosted various forms of Asian Games. The Winter Olympics are set to be held in Beijing in 2022 and the country has been the venue for prestigious events in Basketball, Swimming and Athletics in recent years.
China is not a democratic nation.
Russia is an interesting conundrum. Russian athletes were prohibited from competing under the national flag at many recent major events due to widespread state-supported doping, but the country still hosted events such as the Winter Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in Kazan.
Russia is not a democratic nation.
The Gulf states
The Gulf states are attracting sports administrators to their nations. Their geographical location and air transport hubs make them enticing locations for staging international events, and their oil wealth allows them to cover the costs. The oil money also affords their people a very high standard of living and a subsequent tolerance of government policies.
Qatar is determined to become a sporting nation. They have invested heavily in sporting academies and sporting infrastructure. They host major events and hire foreign experts to train their homegrown talent. They are set to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and have promised to keep players, officials, fans and the media comfortable despite the stifling desert heat. The air conditioned World Cup is bound to cost an absolute fortune, but the oil rich states should have little trouble convincing their subjects to bear this burden.
Having worked at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, which was the first major event of any kind held in that country, I can attest to the enthusiasm, pride and excitement Qataris will feel towards football’s greatest tournament in two year’s time.
The United Arab Emirates has attempted to position itself as a favourable tourism destination through hosting international competitions in sports such as Rugby Sevens, Tennis, Golf, Sailing, Equestrian and Road Running.
The flow-on effect
Financial costs and benefits are not the only factors for governments to consider when deciding to host a major event. Flow-on effects must also be taken into account.
One flow-on effect is the increase in sports participation after a major event such as the Olympic Games. This is not true. Many first-world countries which have recently hosted major events are seeing an increase in childhood obesity every year.
Major events lead to an increase in sports participation immediately after the games, or an increase in participation in particular sports. If a national hockey team or basketball team wins gold, those two sports will most likely attract more members. But many of these sports were probably mass participation sports in that country anyway. Norway wins Cross -Country skiing gold because of the popularity of that sport. The same can be said of Speed Skating in The Netherlands, Rugby Sevens in Fiji and Table Tennis in China.
Sporting infrastructure is touted as a positive legacy for a host city or country. Many venues are reused as specialist or multipurpose sporting facilities. However, A quick google search reveals a multitude of facilities in many countries left to crumble after world’s best athletes have departed. Some of these abandoned facilities were used as recently as the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
Evidence of this wastage, and the tactics used by governments to justify the initial construction, will surely make citizens of democratic nations more cynical and less inclined to support bids for major events in the future.
Is it cheaper to host E-Sports events?
Competitions still often take place inside sports stadiums but there are fewer competitors at fewer venues who seem to require less equipment. Competitions consist of a few ‘gamers’, their elaborate computer game equipment, copious energy drinks and some broadcast equipment to display the action on a big screen and to livestream to audiences around the world. The fact that E-Sports competitions take place electronically means that they can be enjoyed online. Does this make them easier and cheaper to host?
E-Sports must be an enticing options for governments in the future because they are enormously popular. The most watched Youtube videos are those featuring computer games and gamers.
Are we looking at this the wrong way?
Instead of asking whether only authoritarian regimes will host major events in the future, can we cite the hosting of an international sporting competition as evidence that a country is not democratic?
Persuading the powerful
Finally, how many countries will be able to afford to ‘persuade’ the sports officials who decide which country hosts the upcoming sporting extravaganza?
Alvin and Calvin Harrison and Carl Ernest and Carlos ErnestoMorgan 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.
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?
EXCLUSIVE: The Australian government has informed the Australian Olympic Committee that the nation has officially withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games and will not compete in any future Olympic events.
The announcement was lost among media reporting on the current aged care debacle and the COVID-19 pandemic, but was made via a brief press release from the Minister for Youth and Sport, Senator Richard Colbeck.
“Australia contributes to such a small percentage of the overall medal tally at the Olympic Games that our efforts make no real difference to the event,” said Senator Colbeck.
“In Rio, our total medal haul did not even contribute 10% to the overall medal tally, and pales into insignificance compared to the big medal winners such as China and the USA. We won only 8 gold medals in Rio and we win even less at Winter games.”
“The simple, undeniable fact is that Australia’s population is, and always will be, too small to make any real impact on the medal tally at international multi-sport competitions, so we should stop trying to change the situation and cease to participate.”
As a result, Australian athletes will no longer be able to compete under the national banner in summer or winter games, paralympic competitions or even the Youth Olympic Games.
The Australian government apparently made the decision after failing to persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow ‘carry over medals’. Carry over medals are medals won at a previous Olympic competition which count towards a country’s medal tally at a subsequent Olympics.
Australia lobbied for medals such as Mack Horton’s gold in the 400m freestyle at Rio in 2016 to count towards its overall tally at the Tokyo games (scheduled to take place in 2021). This is despite the fact that a number of Rio medallists, including cyclist Anna Meares, have retired from their sport altogether.
“Australia needs carry over medals to meet its future Olympic medal targets,” argued Senator Colbeck.
The country’s fierce lobbying for the new rule won some support from nations such as India and Brazil, but eventually positioned Australia as a pariah in the international arena. This prompted the government’s decision to divorce itself entirely from the Olympic family.
As to how the Australian public will react, it is not yet known. It is hard to imagine that such a sports mad nation, which hosted the games in 2000, will accept such a decision. That said, they did re-elect a prime minister who famously carried a lump of coal into parliament in support of the fossil fuel industry.
Senator Colbeck also alluded to the young Australians who will now be denied a healthy, prosperous, optimistic future.
“They are young, fit, dedicated and patriotic, so we’ll put them all in the army,” he explained.
Sammy Wanjiru achieved one of the most remarkable feats in Olympic marathon history, but what followed is a story of mystery and tragedy.
The Kenyan set a new Olympic games record of 2:06.32 when he won gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games ahead of Jaouad Gharib of Morocco and Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia.
An Olympic record is a remarkable achievement in any circumstances, but Wanjiru’s is all the more impressive. Beijing was extremely hot and humid on the morning of the race and even the spectators in the main stadium and on the roadside were drenched in sweat. The heat and humidity combined with Beijing’s famous air pollution to make conditions some of the least favourable for a marathon runner. Despite this, Wanjiru attacked from the gun, and ran the first five kilometres in 14:52.
Legend has it that when the newly-crowned champion was asked about how the conditions affected his tactics and performance, he said that because of the heat he wanted to finish the race sooner so he just ran faster.
The comment illustrates something of the Kenyan mentality towards distance running. Ultimately, they believe that the key to success is hard work. The key to success is working harder in training than you do in a race. The key to success is working harder than any of your training partners, or anyone else on the track or the trails around Iten in the Rift Valley. This philosophy works because most of the other athletes running around Iten have enough raw talent to be the best in the world.
Wanjiru’s compatriots and training partners are also motivated by something other than patriotism, the Olympic ideals and the quest for personal excellence. They are motivated by money.
Most rural Kenyans, especially those from the running heartland of the Rift Valley, have very few opportunities to make enough money to live a comfortable life, free of the endless, monotonous physical labour which defines the life of most Iten locals. Running is their chance to make serious money.
It may surprise many people, even keen fans of Athletics, to know that Wanjiru won the first ever Olympic marathon gold medal for his country. Kenyans are famed for their long-distance victories, but have actually had more success in middle-distance events, or on the lucrative international road-running circuit.
Wanjiru and his neighbours grew up seeing successful distance runners making money. Champions bought nice houses for themselves and their families, wore good clothes and drove modern cars. They looked after their families and sent their children to good schools. Wanjiru and his peers grew up desiring this success.
Unfortunately, Wanjiru was one of the successful Kenyan runners who suffered from sudden fame and wealth and died in mysterious circumstances.
Wanjiru died after falling from the balcony of his home in Nyahuru 2011. The great champion, who still holds the world junior record for 10,000m, who won the London and Chicago marathons and set three world records for the half marathon, was dead before his 26th birthday.
The tragedy of a rare talent lost for ever is matched only by the mystery of his death. It was never established if Wanjiru was pushed, fell or jumped from the balcony.
The official police investigation and court proceedings failed to prove conclusively how Wanjiru died.
One theory suggests that his first of three wives, Triza Njeri, found him in bed with another woman and locked the couple in the bedroom. When she apparently ran outside Wanjiru jumped from the balcony, causing his death.
Another theory suggests that Wanjiru was murdered by a group of men working alongside Njeri. Wanjiru’s mother, Hannah told a court that she believes her son was murdered. During this investigation, a former pathologist claimed that the champion jumped from the balcony or was pushed, that he landed on his legs but was then struck by a blunt object.
What is known is that Wanjiru had been drinking at the time of his death. He had battled alcohol addiction throughout most of his short adult life, even while he was winning major international races and breaking records. This surely is testament to his talent and the amazing toughness of a fierce competitor whose finishing time in the stifling heat of Beijing is still the Olympic record.
The world’s best athletes should be competing for the ultimate prize in world sport right now, but will instead have to wait another twelve months to test themselves against sport’s elite at Tokyo2020 (2021).
For fans whose sporting body clocks tell us that we should be glued to the screen, or shouting ourselves hoarse at a stadium, we can attempt to fill that void ever so slightly with a look back at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Sport evokes a depth of patriotism matched only by war, and this is on clear display at an Olympiad. For Chinese citizens, their pride overflowed as they hosted their first ever truly international sporting event. Everyday Chinese citizens went out of their way to be helpful to foreigners, regardless of the language barrier. The roar of the crowd, in perfect unison inside the stadiums, was deafening and at times frightening. The hosts wore their patriotism on their sleeves, their faces…
International visitors also proudly displayed their national colours, at the stadiums, on public transport, in the streets, restaurants, bars, hotels…everywhere.
National pride consumes the athletes in ways that only a national representative can understand. Unrivalled emotions are experienced when athletes enter the stadium for the opening ceremony, in national uniform, alongside teammates united behind their national flag. For flag bearers, the honour compares only to the victories which earned them this right.
In Beijing, a funny thing happened during the opening ceremony. Something that caught many international spectators by surprise. Nations entered the stadium in the order of the spelling of their name in Chinese, not in English or French.
One thing didn’t change, though. When the host nation entered the stadium, the crowd erupted.
World class stadia
China delivered some of the world’s most impressive sporting facilities. The Bird’s Nest, which hosted the Athletics and the opening and closing ceremonies, and the Water Cube which hosted the swimming and aquatic events, are some of the best-known sporting facilities in the world.
An army of volunteers
China has one advantage over the rest of the world: An enormous population. They used this population to good effect at the games. The opening and closing ceremony performers were apparently armed forces members, accustomed to following directions and repeating actions again and again until performed with military precision. Day after day they filled the bowels of the Bird’s Nest waiting to rehearse their section of the elaborate ceremony.
The practice paid off. The opening and closing ceremonies were some of the most impressive in history, and a triumph of theatre and spectacle.
But is it sport?
No. And there are many sports purists who believe the theatrics of the opening and closing ceremonies are out of control as each host city tries to outdo its predecessor. They argue that the budget for the ceremonies alone plunge taxpayers into debt and the performances become so grand they threaten to overshadow the true stars of an Olympics, the athletes. The ceremonies in Beijing certainly supported this theory.
What about Tokyo?
What will the ceremonies look like in Tokyo? Assuming the games go ahead at some point in the future, can the government of Japan justify elaborate and expensive ceremonies after Japan has suffered the economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mystery and secrecy
The Chinese government and the organising committee went to great lengths to guard a state secret during the 2008 Olympics. Not its actions in Dafur, not its actions in Taiwan or Tibet. A secret more guarded than its policies in Xinjiang and the South China Sea. The secret it would not reveal is the most precious secret at any Olympiad: Who would light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony.
In the days preceeding the ceremony, rumours spread throughout the media village and the entire city as to who would light the flame, and how. Pundits suggested all manner of techniques, drawing on the oldest and strongest stereotypes of the host country. The slightest movement on the roof of the Bird’s Nest sparked yet more speculation and theories.
Eventually, the world watched gymnast Li Ning suspended on a wire like a hero in a martial arts movie run a slow motion lap around the rim of the stadium before lighting the cauldron.
The party’s over.
Once the opening ceremony is finished, the work begins. The serious business of sport takes place and athletes do what what they have trained to do every day for years and years. Of course, the stadium had to be returned to a sporting arena after the ceremonial extravaganza.
Every fan has their favourite moment, favourite athlete or favourite team from every Olympics. Australian fans lucky enough to be in Sydney in 2000 will recall Cathy Freeman’s victory in the 400m on the Athletics track. Fijians still beam with pride at the memory of their first ever Olympic medal, gold in the men’s Rugby 7s in Rio.
Chinese fans were robbed of a Cathy Freeman moment when their national hero and pre-race favourite, Liu Xiang, withdrew from the 110m hurdle event with a knee injury in 2008. I was in the stadium when it happened and the grief and disappointment among the Chinese people was palpable. Liu reached down to touch his knee before setting himself on the starting blocks, something he wouldn’t normally do. He then raised his hand and walked off the track. He was out. He couldn’t compete. He couldn’t win gold in front of his adoring home fans. Some locals screamed, all stared in disbelief at the big screen. Men and women cried, and every second journalist in the stadium rushed to find him and get that quote. Alas, for Liu it wasn’t meant to be.
International superstars grace every Olympics, in many different sports. In Beijing, one of the most famous faces on the planet, Lionel Messi, took gold in the men’s football with his Argentinian teammates, including fellow star Juan Riquelme.
One World, One Dream
One World One Dream, One Country Two Systems, China talks a lot about unity. It is interesting to note that since the 2008 Olympic Games, China has sought to create one world – under its control. Its policies and actions in Tibet, Xinjiang, the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong indicate China’s desire to exert control over its region and the rest of the world. Just as interesting is that despite this, Beijing is scheduled to host another of the IOCs major events, the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
Until the world’s best athletes meet again in Tokyo, or elsewhere, at some point in the future, we leave you with these memories of the 2008 games. What was your favourite moment in Beijing?
The Australian Olympic Committee has lodged an official application with the International Olympic Committee to have medals awarded to athletes who finish eighth at the next Olympic Games in order to create a more inclusive environment for young Australians accustomed to receiving eighth place medals.
Australia is lobbying the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to expand the medal allocation from the traditional gold, silver and bronze to reflect the reality of junior sport in Australia.
“In junior sporting competitions, school sports carnivals and many more competitive contexts, Australian children are given prizes, ribbons and medals for finishing well out of the top 3, or sometimes for just turning up,” outlined a spokesperson for the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC).
“It is Australia’s strong desire to see this custom adopted by the IOC.”
The AOC argues that the generation of young Australians raised on eighth place medals are now old enough to enter the Olympic arena and must be accommodated via a change in the rules.
“These young Australians are likely to feel threatened and uncomfortable in an environment in which winning and personal excellence are celebrated.”
The proposed changes would award a medal to every athlete from 1st – 8th, so finalists in most sports will win a medal. Every medal would be coloured grey, and athletes who finish outside the top eight all receive a beige participation medal.
The AOC is pushing hard for the new system to be in place for the Tokyo games, scheduled to take place in 2021.
“While every member of the Olympic family was saddened to see Tokyo2020 postponed, it did at least give us another 12 months to lobby the IOC for the introduction of the eighth place medal,” explained the spokesperson.
“Even if the changes can’t be introduced immediately into the Olympic Games, we will lobby for them to be trialled at the Youth Olympic Games, in which many young Australians participate.”
Supporters of the eighth place medal mentality argue that it removes the element of competition from children’s physical activity, and creates a safer, more inclusive environment and subsequently increases participation levels.
Opponents of the custom argue that it prevents children from learning how to deal with losing and from developing emotional resilience. They claim it suppresses children’s natural competitive urges and athletic talent, and fails to acknowledge that superior talent, dedication, effort and strategy lead to victory in sport. It also ignores the fact that healthy competition among children can be harnessed for good.
Other critics go so far as to claim that the eighth place medal movement coincided with the dramatic rise in childhood obesity in the nation.
The AOC spokesperson then outlined other changes Australia would like to see introduced into future Olympic competitions, many of which are borrowed from the school system in which today’s young Olympians were educated.
Recent years saw the introduction of ‘Special Consideration’ for students who are sitting their final year exams, which determine tertiary education entrance rankings. The system has proved enormously popular among Australian students and their parents.
Adopting these principles in the Olympic arena would see endurance athletes in sports such as Athletics, Cycling, Mountain Biking, Triathlon and Swimming allowed to take rest breaks when they feel tired – without this break time being added to their overall finishing time. Cyclists could ride an E-Bike if they choose, while Rugby 7s teams could field as many players as they want, in recognition Australia’s appalling rates of numeracy.
Sprinters would be able to run 95 metres instead of the mandated 100 metres, while team sports would be played without the score being recorded. High, long and triple jumpers could place a mini tramp at the end of the runway, while rock climbers would be hauled up the rock face by their belay buddy.
The spokesperson was then asked if these conditions would apply to athletes from other countries.
“No way,” he replied emphatically.
“Don’t forget, we’re drawing on a talent pool which was not allowed to run, jump, throw, wrestle, climb or kick a ball in their school playground. Children who were not allowed to set foot on local sports grounds when it rained. A generation of young people whose schools have designated ‘passive’ ovals on which no vigorous activity is allowed – for fear someone will scrape their knee. How can we possibly compete against athletes who grow up running 10km to school in bare feet every day?
“Plus, how else are we going to climb up the medal tally and finally justify the enormous amount of taxpayer money that is poured into elite sport every year?”
Radical elements within the AOC would like to see the changes go even further.
They want to ban sports such as Boxing, Wrestling, Judo, Karate and Taekwondo as they are examples of rough play. They would like to remove traditional Olympic disciplines such as Javelin, Discus and Shot Putt, as well as Archery, Fencing and Shooting, as they promote violence.
Furthermore, all Basketball and Volleyball players would have to be the same height. 10m platform diving would be banned, while the 1m springboard is permitted as long as the diver enters with a safety dive – and NO BOMBS!
Participants in all water-based activities would have to wear life jackets, and as for surfing, this is considered far too dangerous due to the presence of sharks, bluebottles, urchins, stingrays, rips and big waves.
The IOC is yet to respond to the application, but Australia remains confident that it can create an inclusive Olympic Games without any competition.
Each stroke of the pedals brings mountain biker Matshediso Bakang Ebudilwe closer to realising her dream.
Her ultimate goal is to manage a professional women’s cycling team, and the determined cyclist from Botswana has already taken the first steps to achieving that dream. Baks, as she is known to her friends, became the first Motswana (citizen of Botswana) to represent the African country at a UCI world championship event, when she battled the hills in the u23 category in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, in 2018.
“That was like a dream come true,” explains the pint-sized rider.
“I was so happy and I felt like a hero. That was the best thing that I have ever done for this mother land.”
The next goal is to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in the Mountain Bike Cross Country event, where she hopes to join some of her team mates from The Sufferfest African Dream Team.
“African Dream Team is the only UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) registered team in Africa. It is an MTB team for African riders from Lesotho and Botswana, although I’m the only rider from Botswana.”
Ebudilwe is hoping to draw motivation and advice from her team mates, including Phetetso Monese, who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
The establishment of The Sufferfest African Dream Team is the major reason that Ebudilwe switched from road cycling, where she won multiple national titles, to mountain biking.
“The scholarship for the African Dream Team was available only for mountain biking, so I decided to try for the scholarship because I didn’t want to miss that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
This opportunity sees Ebudilwe divide her time between southern Africa, where the team trains on the hills and altitude of Lesotho and South Africa, and Switzerland, where she is based during the European racing season.
Switzerland is a long way from the village of Mahalapye in the north of Botswana, where the self-confessed tomboy grew up.
“I grew up with my brother and cousins as the only girl, playing with the boys and everything they did. I did my primary and secondary school in Mahalapye, where I played soccer and I was the team captain.”
“I moved to the great city of Gaborone for senior school, and I got involved in cycling when I was doing my final year. I wanted to try a new sport, then I thought cycling is not so popular, so let me go for it.”
A background in road cycling explains where Ebudilwe’s strengths lie as a mountain biker.
“Since I started cycling with a road bike, I’m better on flatter trails, where I can just put the hammer down and go without any obstacles to do. I think I am better at endurance, definitely not climbing, because I’m from a very flat country and low altitude.”
That said, she is certainly enjoying her adopted sport.
“MTB is fun, it gives me freedom. I go anywhere I want. It’s also challenging mentally on some of the obstacles.”
Ebudilwe’s ascension to the world championships began on African soil, where she competed in the African Youth Games, the African Road Championships and the African MTB Championships. It is also where she joined fellow Dream Team rider Likeleli Masitise for a very credible 3rd place in the Elite Women’s category of ‘Lesotho Sky’, a six-stage cross country race through the high-altitude trails of the land-locked African nation.
While Ebudilwe is the first Motswana to challenge herself against the sport’s best at the world championships, she doesn’t expect to be the last.
“My federation is trying to make the MTB sport grow. They took 7 guys to the African Championships in Namibia this year, so they’re really trying.”
She also credits the federation, as well as her support network, with her rise to the elite level of the sport.
“There are lots of people who contribute a lot to my cycling career. My local club Tsela riders, my team African Dream Team, my federation, my parents and friends, they support me left, right and centre.”
The 22-year-old revealed that she was chubby when she was 17/18, and that her dedication to training helped her to lose weight and develop the endurance of an elite cyclist.
“I train hard, I build my power in wattbikes and I try to push myself, even if it’s painful. I want to go to the Olympics next year.”
The time spent sweating in the lab is also taking Ebudilwe closer to her ultimate dream.
“I want to get a degree in sports management. Having a lady’s team is one of my dreams, and I also want to have my own beautiful family one day and own a laboratory for sports tests.”
Baks describes herself as a quiet person,
“…but that depends on where I am and who I am with. At school I was the funniest.”