Running Revives a City, February 21, 2012

Will Leer leads Lee Emanuel and Nick Willis in the New Balance men's 2-mile handicap race on Feb. 4 in Christchurch.

The shot rose, curved down, and plunked into the grass. A big one. Silence. No one moved. All eyes were on the official with the two flags, one red, one white. A long pause. Then he raised the white flag. And 3,000 people around him burst into a huge triumphant cheer, filling the arena with acclaim.

“In a lifetime in track and field,” I said over the public address, as the crowd chortled, “I have never heard an official get a cheer like that.”

What did it mean?

It simple terms, it meant that after three out of his first four attempts got the red flag for foot faults, the brilliant young Jacko Gill had hit one right. He's the fresh-faced, big-boned New Zealand teenager who exploded from nowhere at age 15 to win the 2010 world junior championship for the shot put, displacing Usain Bolt as the youngest ever junior world champ.

On this day in Christchurch he was putting against (kind of) the towering, genial women's multiple world and Olympic champion Valerie Adams. All New Zealanders hope Gill will join Adams in shot put royalty, and 3,000 of them were sitting in attentive circles, right there on the grass around the shot area (at the invitation of Adams and the meet organizers) to watch the two perform.

Olympic champion Valerie Adams gave the Christchurch crowd exactly what it needed.

In less simple terms, the ebullient cheers for Gill (and the judge) meant that the people of Christchurch were determined to have a good time. They clapped in unison for Gill and Adams, they screamed wildly for Olympic 1500m silver medallist Nick Willis and the American friend who beat him, Will Leer, they whooped for the school relays, they even cheered the officials.

It was testimony to the resilient spirit of that poor earthquake-battered city that the Feb. 4 International Track Meet (ITM) was being held at all. A year ago this week — on Feb. 22, 2011 — the city fell, its track and field stadium was wrecked, 186 people were killed, including one prominent running coach, and the ITM scheduled four days later was inevitably canceled. [See Roger on Running, The Silver Lining of the Christchurch Quake, March 2011]. Since then, there have been more than 10,000 measurable aftershocks (that's more than one an hour, 24 hours a day, non-stop for a year), some the force of quite major quakes.

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Tags: , Christchurch, New Zealand, Roger on Running, Running Times

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