A morning’s athletics followed by an afternoon off to mark the halfway point, what a luxury. I was in fairly early, though missed the start of the 50km walk at 8:30. Much athletics is utterly compelling when seen live and yet simple and quick to sum up. I suppose much sport is like that-either you see the whole thing, with ups and downs, or you can boil it down to a story of goals, tries etc. With athletics it almost seems more so, as it is international and so without a home nation to cheer in most events, it can be easy to switch off. Why worry about an Irish gold, other than in the abstract? Similarly, watching highlights of a jump is straightforward, but it is hugely more dramatic watching the rounds develop, not knowing whether the jump you are watching is significant. Yet watching the walk, with Russians making the early move, trailed by a Frenchman who joined the chasing pack, then went it alone, then moved to the front, I was hooked. It helps that it is so obviously such hard work and, I suppose, that elite walkers go at about my running pace. It still seems slightly ridiculous to watch but just as with cricket’s DRS or football, if anyone ever bothered, having the rules explained negates much criticism. Did you know that when a football team scores, the ball ‘belongs’ to the defending team? So every striker you’ve ever seen trying to take the ball out of a ‘keepers hands? Either a cheat or ignorant of the rules for the game he plays. Similarly with the walk, the rule is that one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times; but as judged with the naked eye. So slow-mo may show much, but is only relevant for interest.
Heffernan’s win was hugely popular, and he made his final lap plus of the stadium a celebration. He and the other medallists cold cavort a little, but many other finishers could do no more than collapse after the line. Diniz, the Frenchman who made the early walking only to fade, stop a couple of times and look as though he was dropping out, looked in a bad way. It’s a struggle that gets to me emotionally in just the same way as a marathon.
That afternoon, we had a semi organised tour. Semi, in that the team had asked their transport organiser to sort something out, which is a bit like asking me to direct a bus driver round the sights of London. Right you are, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham palace, Hyde park, um, where else do you want to go? In fact, a spare afternoon is such a rarity that people mostly wanted to take pictures, with masses taken on the bus. The bus taking us to Red Square. We need a new cliche, but it was like herding cats once we got there, breaking into smaller and smaller groups.
Wandering around the square it was all very “the World Championships do Moscow” as people were wearing their accreditation passes as if worried they’d be checked in public. Moment of the afternoon came when we spotted Nadine ‘she’s got a pretty face’ Muller and someone shouted to get a picture for Rob, whose quote that is. Steve went one better, bounding up to ask for a picture and being only momentarily checked by her hand keeping him out of the shot they were currently taking. Great picture, but even better is wondering whether she’ll ever know that that funny English bloke in the hat was Steve Ovett.
We were in Red Square for some time, taking pictures and meandering, before slowly making our way back to the bus. A souvenir stall took a good ten minutes to negotiate, while big Ron was tapped by a brave pickpocket. Nothing lost, but the full shoulder contact, hand in pocket. We stopped briefly at the presidential palace, pointed out the British embassy and, the other side of town, consulate and stopped at the top of Sparrow Hills. The view down to the stadium is grand from there, while behind is one of the huge buildings known as seven sisters. Originally there were intended to be 8, around a central huge something or other that was never built. This one is the hub of Moscow state university, which spreads wider than that one massive building on a huge campus. I was happy with an ice cream and a look at the views. This, then, was a day to catch breath and see more of the city than just the metro and a few streets.