Beijing Stories: Athletic Association of Small States of Europe, by Elliott Denman

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OpeningCeremonies1a-World15.JPgOpening Ceremonies, August 22, 2015, photo by PhotoRun.net

As Elliott Denman continues to find us unique views of the World Champs, here is his story on the AASSE, or the Athletic Association of Small States of Europe!


By ELLIOTT DENMAN
Take me to San Marino in 2017.
I can't wait to hear the first starting gun of the AASSE Championships.
Never heard of the AASSE?
Well, let Jerai Torres tell you all about these games of the Athletic Association of Small States
of Europe.
He's the sprint champion of Gibraltar. He came to China as the fastest man
on "The Rock."
He came to the "Bird's Nest" with a 22.78 2015 best for the
200 meters. He went home having improved to 22.77, running eighth in the fourth
heat of the opening round of the 200 at the 15th World Championships of Track and
Field.
He ranked 53rd of the 54 who actually ran the race. Six more were entered. Four "jumped"
and earned DQ's. Two more were DNSs - they did not start, one of them the USA's injured
Wallace Spearmon.
Jerai Torres was happy to be here - but he wasn't here long.
"My immediate goal is to break 22 seconds," he tells you. "It's great running at the
World Championships, but I guess you could see I didn't have a chance."
USA's Justin Gatlin won Torres's heat in 20.19 and was waltzing.
Torres was correct, he didn't have a chance.
Instead, he considered the World Championships great preparation for the AASSEs.
Back in 1993, the delegates of Cyprus, Iceland, Lichtenstein and Luxembourg saw the need.
If your country had less than a million residents, it was an automatic candidate for their
newly-formed AASSE. Andorra, Malta, San Marino, Montenegro and, eventually
Jerai Torres' Team Gibraltar, enrolled. They were the perfect candidates, and had the
postage stamps to prove it.
There's just one other eligible state left in Europe.
But it's highly unlikely the Vatican City will ever sign up. Too many heavenly
responsibilities to get wrapped up in the 100-meter dash, the high hurdles or the discus throw.
The AASSEs include competition in 12 sports for men and women, but track and field
is always a highlight. These nations may be small but there were moments when they were
mighty.
One year, having developed a few world-class performers, Iceland could
declare itself "the per-capita champion of the world."
Back in 1952, the marvelous Josy Barthel scored a huge upset for his
small nation by running off with the Olympic 1500-meter title.
And when he broke into a flood of tears on the victory stand, that master
wordsmith, Red Smith, then of the New York Herald-Tribune, captured
all the the magic of the moment by calling Barthel "the lachrymose
Luxembourger."
Needless to say, Jerai Torres would like to be "the Josy Barthel of
Gibraltar," the guy from the Small State who hit it big.
Of English and Spanish parents, he sees both sides of the forever-debate
over Gibraltar's sovereignty.
The Spanish see the British as usurpers.
The British see the Spanish as sore losers, ever since they lost fair and square
In the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704 and then signed the Treaty of Utrecht.
Getting to Gibraltar from Spain isn't easy. Spain seems to have removed all the road signs.
You'd better have a good map.
But, always, there's "the Rock" to point you in the right direction,
Just past the frontier is the big British Air Force base. And near it is Jerai
Torres' home track.
He's really an IT major at the University of Liverpool but when he's back home in Gibraltar,
Torres trained with maximum vigor on that track in preparation for China.
He reminds you that tourism and associated commerce have long been pillars of the
Gibraltar economy, but that the gambling industry is coming on fast.
There's a whole block of parlors - from William Hill & Co. on down - where you
can bet your last pounds on anything that moves.
So this prompts the obvious inquiry:
"Back home, what odds were they giving on you beating Usain Bolt?"
"Well, I don't think there were any odds on that at all, and if there were, they'd be
a million-to-one," he said.
"No, change that.
"A billion to one would be better."
And that's one more reason a trip to the next edition of the AASSE Championships sounds
so enticing.
With two more years of solid training under his belt, a guy like Jerai Torres might
actually stand a chance of climbing the medal stand.

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