Monday, May 12, 2008

Sports Day

Today, as I made my way to the train station, there was a chill in the air, but it was a chill that suggested that another day of warm sunshine beckoned.

Mornings like that, when the smell of cut grass hangs in air alongside the morning mist, always remind of sports day at high school.

I'm not sure if this situation was replicated at other schools, but at the high school I attended, there were two sports days - an individual sports day and a team sports day.

At the first, the individual sports day, each competitor was out for personal glory, taking part in as many events as he or she saw fit, the person with the most points at the end of the day winning the individual sports trophy for that year.

A week later, the official school sports took place, with the school's three houses competing against each other for the collective bragging rights. And the events couldn't be rigged - no single competitor was allowed to compete in more than two individual events plus the relay race.

In those days, I was a fairly formidable sprinter, at least within the context of our school. And from first year onwards, it became apparent that taking part in the individual sports day was a great way of missing a day's lessons.

I competed every year from first until sixth year, even in the years when Standard Grades and Highers were doing their damndest to suck the will to live from all who cowered in their shadows.

It was a fairly easy decision - a day in a stuffy classroom with algebra, iambic pentameter and the farming habits of Amazon indians, or a day spent running around in the sun.

Those who participated in the individual sports day fell broadly into three camps:

A) The Competitors. These were the individuals who saw, in sports day, a chance to bag some glory through lifting a silver trophy at that year's prize-giving ceremony, their parents beaming happily from the audience. Their ambition would know no bounds - warm-up exercises, knee braces and isotonic sports drinks were all employed as they attempted to get their grubby paws on a trophy.

B) The Skivers: These people were at sports day simply as a way of avoiding the book-based horror within the school's walls. What they lacked in physical prowess and athletic endeavour, they made up for in journies to the sweetie machines or escape bids to smoke a fly fag around the back of the science block.

C) The Complete Bampots: Even at the age of 13, there are some people you can pick out as being a bit special. They may not have a brain cell to call their own, but when they're 6'2" of rippling muscle before most of their classmates' balls have dropped, you know it's best not to point out their shortcomings.

I was somewhere between groups A and B: I turned up half expecting to do well, then remembered that I can't run for more than 200 metres without coughing up semi-vital internal organs.

But, from the age of about 15, I was almost unbeatable over 100m, when limiting the competition solely to other pupils at my school. I say almost, because there is always one....

....Jimmy (I've changed his name to avoid any future repercussions) was a machine. He didn't so much fit into group C as define it. There are people you describe as solid who don't deserve the accolade. Jimmy wasn't one of them.

I'd encountered him on a running track once before, during a relay race. My team was doing well, and I was leading from the front on the final leg.

Then I heard Jimmy.

That's right, I heard him coming.

Snorting like a charging bull, he was closing the gap on me, his arms and legs seemingly replaced by steam engine pistons.

And, in a blur of thunderous gristle, he was past me and through the line.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jimmy, not renowned for his ability to work with calculus, is now in the army. Never mind tanks and guns - just set Jimmy at those Iraqi insurgents. He'll take down the whole of Basra in a day.

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