Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Under Starter's Orders: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Under Starter's Orders: Comment

Article excerpt

September, and a new race is beginning. The 30 competitors are lined up by the track in differing degrees of nervousness. In the stands, the crowds look on with varying levels of attention. As the coach of all the athletes, you are apprehensive and excited.

You shout encouragement as the runners take their starting positions. Not together, of course, but scattered along the track. At the front, the elite competitors are poised, desperate for the off. They wear the latest running shoes and have arrived sipping sports drinks. Further back, several wear cheap sandals and ill-fitting jumpers; many have trailing shoelaces. One entrant will run with his shoelaces tied together and another has turned up in a sleeping bag.

Each runner has their own group of spectators who cheer and shout advice - or abuse - at both runner and coach. Sometimes they throw in water and energy drinks, although some provide burgers and crisps instead. The spectators at the front have an obsessive interest in the position of every entrant and discuss this loudly with you. For a few competitors, the spectator team keeps changing; for some, their supporters keep popping out to the bar.

Finally, the starter's pistol sounds. It's a false start but there can be no second chances. Some runners set off on their toes at a brisk pace, as they've been taught. Others proceed in a more leisurely fashion: some almost walk; a few adopt an unorthodox approach, spinning, moving sideways, hopping on one leg. Occasionally, a runner leaves the track altogether and a new one joins in, although rarely in the same position. …

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