Osaka Notes, Day Six-by Mary Nicole Nazzaro

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For Day six, Nicole has written about the global nature of athletics.....

Osaka Notes
By Mary Nicole Nazzaro
Day 6: Thursday, August 30, 2007

What's beautiful about the world track and field championships is discovering just how many languages this sport can speak.

There are so few sports that truly communicate globally that when you find one, you marvel at how one activity can reach across so many different parts of this earth we inhabit. Soccer is the obvious first choice, except if you're a typical American, of course. There's basketball and hockey for the cold-weather countries and cricket for the Commonwealth countries.

But finding one common denominator across all nations is a rare thing. That's why the world track and field championships are so special.

Global reach? Just look at the medal table from tonight's competition. Tonight's medalists came from places like Panama, Cuba, and China, with a little bit of the old regulars – Russia and the United States – mixed in. There was a newly-minted Australian mom taking the gold in the 400 meter hurdles (Jana Rawlinson, nee Pittman). China won its first medal with a bronze in the women's hammer throw, a triumph for longtime world competitor Zhang Wenxiu, whose world championship experience goes all the way back to Edmonton in 2001.

In Paris four years ago, it was all about the "Bleus." The atmosphere inside the Stade de France was raucous, like the World Cup matches that building had hosted back in 1998. "Allez le Bleus!" sang the fans whenever Marc Raquil or Eunice Barber showed up to compete. Electric was an understatement. There was a drum ensemble from Guadalupe in the stands leading the cheers. It was a nine-day party. Eunice Barber put a stamp on the championships by winning gold on her final jump of the competition. It sent the French fans into a frenzy.

Two years ago in Helsinki, the mood – and the weather – shifted far north. Nordic strength, in the shape of throwers like Finnish javelin star Tero Pitkamaki, was what was worshipped. Adam Nelson won the shot put and remarked afterwards that the Finns "like big things, and the shot put is kind of a big thing." The field events, so often forgotten next to the glamour of the sprints, got center stage in those championships.

Now we are in Japan, the most organized and polite society I've ever traveled amongst. I've stopped counting the number of times I bow and am bowed to during the day, stopped worrying whether I'm saying "arigato gozai mas" correctly. I just keep doing it: bow, say thank you, bow, say thank you. Inside the stadium, the fans are like concert-goers. There are cheers for fine performances, then applause, then the noise dies down again. The Japanese observe, pay attention – and yes, cheer for their own. But there has been a very soft touch in the mood of these championships, as though there are two different things going on inside Nagai Stadium. There's the fierce competition going on down on the track, and then there is a hugely polite society assembled around it to watch.

It's fitting that the last worlds before the Beijing Olympics come in Asia. It's another language that track speaks – the language of the largest and most populous continent on the planet – and though China will be far different culturally, it's great to see the way in which the Japanese translate the excitement of track and field to their own culture.

When this championships end, all of us who have come as visitors will bow and say it one more time to our gracious hosts for these nine days. "Arigato gozai mas." The Japanese have done track and field proud.


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M. Nicole Nazzaro
The China Sports Blog: http://chinasports.wokpopcorn.com

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