I’m in a sunny park with 20 minutes to spare. A local primary school is holding its Sports Day a hundred yards (make that metres) away. I sit down on the grass and idly watch the action. Much of it is team stuff with balls and bean bags and, given that my own children are not involved, I’m not particularly interested. Then I notice that a race has started: boys and girls aged about six or seven are trotting round a pegged-out track. At the front of the pack, at least 10 metres in the lead, is a boy, small compared to his fellows, running well, with economic armswings, his gaze trained on the grass a few feet ahead of him. I tell myself that the children are probably running a 220 (whatever that is in metres), which would be about right for their age group. When I look up again, they’re coming round a second time. The small boy has increased his lead and the competition behind him is looking dangerously puffed. The small boy shows no signs of fatigue at all. I remark to myself that 440 is quite a push for seven year olds. In my postal district the primary schools are concerned to soften the competitive aspects of Sports Day so that kids don’t feel bad. Obviously not the case here.
I watch more closely as the pack, now a ragged strung out crew featuring a number of pedestrians, moves round to the far side of the track. The kid is a little machine, pounding away out there on his own, still no signs of flagging. His determination is unsettling – how could one so young be so single minded? Perhaps this is what promising young athletes are like.
Then the kids come round for a third time. My God, it’s a 660. And given that 660s don’t exist, it looked like it had to be an 880: half a mile (in metres)! As I’ve remarked elsewhere in these posts, I’m not a big sports fan but I started to root for this kid – not that he needed it. By now the track is littered with the walking winded, many of whom were therefore candidates for the sentimental underdog vote. I find myself, however, regarding the kid as if he were the underdog. The kid, alone against the forces of antikid. The kid, runner for all kids, track pounder for the blue remembered hills of wet games days, the cross country, the sprints, the unpleasantness of the home stretch and all preceding stretches. But more than that, away from the smack of plimsoles and their successors the plimsolls upon balding turves, to the pluck. Such pluck. The pluck of the kid: plucking for kids past and kids to come.