There’s golf all over the place this weekend – Los Angeles, Morocco, San Antonio, Zimbabwe, Aston Wood, to mention just a few of the venues. Closest to me will be Aston Wood in Sutton Coldfield, where we Whittington Heath women will be trying to get through to the second round of the Taskers Trophy. We won the first leg at home, by the narrow margin of 4-3, so it’ll be a tough ask. It’s 7-a-side, off handicap and from the look of the weather forecast, we’ll have to root out the sun hats and sunscreen, hoorah.
It’s also the London Marathon this weekend and I’m not sure the thousands of runners will be cheering at the thought of sizzling in the sun for mile upon tortuous mile. Last weekend, unexpectedly, I found myself watching the end of the marathon at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, where the hot and humid conditions turned the race into a bit of a war of attrition. A Scot called Callum Hawkins was leading by some distance, so I didn’t go to bed but kept watching, intrigued that a Scot was about to win gold in such alien conditions. How on earth was he managing?
In the end, he didn’t manage, collapsing with heat exhaustion just over a mile from the finish. An Australian, the defending champion, won, a Ugandan was second, another Scot came third and, blimey, a guy from Northern Ireland was fourth. They all looked shattered. And where were their hats? Hadn’t they heard the old Aussie mantra of “slip, slap, slop”? (Slip on a shirt, slap on a hat and slop on the sunscreen.)
It was distressing to watch as Hawkins started weaving and wobbling, crashed into a barrier, pushed himself off, wobbled on, threw off his cap, hit the kerb, tried to get up again and, at last, stayed down. I, like many others, was screaming at the telly as the medics seemed conspicuous by their absence but marathon runners are a hardy, sometimes foolhardy breed and help means disqualification, hence, presumably, the reluctance to intervene too soon.
Dorando Pietri, of Italy, was disqualified in the 1908 Olympics in London when he staggered and fell several times and was helped over the line at White City after reaching the stadium well ahead of the other runners. Queen Alexandra insisted on meeting Pietri and presented him with a cup and he became more famous than if he’d won. At least Pietri and Hawkins survived, thank goodness. The first marathon runner, the bloke who ran from Marathon to Athens with news of a famous victory, completed the 26-odd miles, then collapsed and died.
Never having been much of a runner – too lacking in puff, 100 yards was about my limit – I am in awe of those who tackle long distances. I also think they’re cracked but there’ll be loads of heart-warming tales in the run-up to London and I still laugh about our friend who nearly had to run carrying one of his Dandie Dinmonts. That’s a small Scottish terrier with a long body and short legs and it wasn’t quite a case of “the dog ate my homework” but “the dog ate my microchip”, the chip that identified its owner as a bona fide entrant in the race. They believed him in the end and the offending Dandie stayed at home.
Perhaps I really should just make a bit more of an effort and try breaking into a shuffle before I seize up altogether? I’ll give it some thought….
For those of you who doubt my athletics credentials, I have rooted out one of my most-prized possessions: the badge that denotes a winner of the All-Ireland schools relay.
It was the 4 x 100 (still yards in those days I think) and I ran the first leg, from a standing start, no blocks (too technical for me). We were in the outside lane but one and I ran like crazy round the bend but didn’t feel I was making any real impression on the girl outside me. I passed the baton without mishap and turned round to see that the others were all still running, still some way from making their handovers. Sheila Weir, Sally Lelievre and I had to give our last runner a good lead because one of the other last leggers had won the individual 100 and 200.
I legged it across the infield to see the finish and a couple of priests asked who they should be cheering for. “Carol Ann,” I wheezed. “Come on Carol Ann,” they roared and come on she did, holding on to win by a Grand National nose.
Marvellous memories and Gwladys Nocera, who has just announced her retirement from the fray of tournament golf, should also have plenty of those. I think I first met her at the Ladies’ British Open Amateur Championship (to give it its full title) at Little Aston in 1998, when she was beaten in the final by Kim Rostron. Gwladys trained on to become one of France’s most successful professionals, winning 14 times on the women’s European Tour and playing in four Solheim Cups. Now, at the age of 42 (43 next month), she is expecting her first child and will be working with the French Federation to encourage and support the next wave of players.
“You can go through the best and the worst things in golf,” she said, “so my best memories are my victories, my friends on tour, all the countries I visited, all the people I met – and I have been pretty lucky. I will miss it, especially the travelling and my friends but I don’t have the fighting spirit I had. I will still play golf but I will play for fun. You don’t play for fun when you are an athlete. The fun comes but you play to win and to get the best from yourself. It takes a lot and I gave a lot and now I’m ready to give to the young ones and show them that it’s possible.”