Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I don't know what everyone's doing this Thursday, but I was wondering if any of you had a couple of hours to spare. I want to go down to High Park, Fort York, or any public area for that matter with a friend or two. I think I'll start by groping women, quite vigourously at that, maybe even running knives against their necks. I might also kick a few in the back of the knee and slap around a few kids and old people.

What I need from you is to disinterestedly reassure these people that I'm only being friendly and won't hurt them. Maybe if I get overly friendly with a primly dressed socialite from the lakefront condos while she's cornered against a fence, you can dully call my name and ask me to stop. After a couple of minutes of fearing for her safety, I might let her go or I might cut her. Does it really matter? I'm just being friendly and I have a right to use that public space. Whatever happens, don't actually rush into the fracas and grab me, even if I start to fly out of control.

Later on, we'll cloak ourselves in black walk through Rosedale armed with automatic weapons and threats of a bomb. We'll harass, intimidate, and humiliate the people we see, but promise that we're just being ourselves. Sorry if we scared you.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Along with many other things, the World Cross Country Championships are an annual reminder of the limits of modernity. Just one of the top 24 in the men's long race, the crown jewel event, was white or maybe more specifically, not from Africa. Runners from Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and Morocco dominated the race, actually illustrated by this picture from the short race. To me, what's more important about these countries is not their relative obscurity or the race of their inhabitants, but their sheer poverty. Ethiopia and Eritrea are easily one of the two least-desirable places to live in the world. In fact, I spent more money to take a course in Greek philosophy ($837 plus $80 in books) than the average person can spend all year in either country.

After all, for all the heart-rate monitors, energy bars and microfibre clothing that the West churns out, there is no product, legal or otherwise, that can produce a runner who can stay with a Bekele, Tadesse or a Mathathi for twelve merciless, torrid kilometres with surge after surge. Far from innate, such ability is the product of frenetic training and a fortunately unfortunate environment. This is a sport so simple and wonderously beautiful that tiny Eritrea, with a population rivaling that of the Greater Toronto Area, can be a power. As I am wont to say in face of the commercial claims to the contrary, running is about running, not the Dri-Fit.

On then, with the results:

45 van Buskirk Kate CAN 21:42 2:15

It's not going to surprise anyone, but of the 36 medals awarded to teams and individuals, 28 went to Ethiopia and Kenya. The two nations both had 14, as well as an equal share of all twelve gold medals. The suddenly titanic Eritreans, testaments to the workmanlike teamwork that is so central to cross country (silver in the men's long race by finishing 4-7-8-9), captured two.

Their silver medal is certainly the upset of the championships and one of its biggest stories. Not only did they beat the vaunted Ethiopian squad that had a miserable team showing (Dinkessa, Gebremariam ran two very poor races) but they almost won the gold medal, finishing four points behind Kenya. Timing is crucial to victory: as much as Eritrea ran the perfect race, they benefited from Ethiopia unexpectedly faltering. Just go ask Peyton Manning when next he'll have such a clean run to the Super Bowl.

Returning to Fukuoka, the Moroccans, led by bronze medallist in the men's short race by my namesake Adil ("It's not a chesterfield!") Kaouch, grabbed two. The Australians, the Dutch and the Japanese (2) were the lone industrialized nations to win medals, the Dutch on the strength of Kenyan-born Lornah Kiplagat.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

A pair of grudge matches will take place this weekend between Kenenisa Bekele and his many pursuers in the short and long races at the World Cross Country Championships. This phalanx of competitors, hoping to deny Bekele a fifth consecutive double, will be lead by Qatari transplant Saif Saeed Shaheen in the short race, which would be the weaker of Bekele's two races. I think it's safe to say that Bekele is invincible at the showcase of cross country running, the senior men's 12 km.

However, Bekele outran Shaheen at last year's championships in France, a major cross country race in January at Edinburgh, as well as at the World Indoor Championships earlier this month. I am hard-pressed to see Shaheen somehow come out on top this time given the way Bekele has shown a superhuman finishing kick, making up a large gap in the final kilometre at Edinburgh.

The only other realistic contender in the short race are Augustine Choge, a putative 19-year old (not that it really matters) with a long string of accolades to his name. Perhaps more important than those accolades is the hype attached to his name: Kenya has to be hoping that he can pull out a big performance on Saturday.

The long race should be mostly academic. Bekele has never lost a cross country race as a senior. It should, however, be a thing of beauty to watch nonetheless as the world's hardiest distance runners, whether miler or marathoners, run twelve mouth-frothingly furious kilometres with a primal urgency. Look for Boniface Kiprop (now there's a name) of Uganda, Zernesay Tadesse of Eritrea, as well as the Kenyan warhorses in Kibowen and Kamathi, to be in the thick of it along with Bekele's own teammates and two dozen of East Africa's finest, plus Craig Mottram.

Not to ignore the women, though I have to admit that I don't really follow women's running (except for the youth championships, since those girls are as fast as I am), I'm going to say that the Ethiopians will do even better in the women's races than the men's. I don't know any names other than Tirunesh Dibaba, who should give Ethiopia its thoroughly Canadian double double, but it seemed that every race in Europe this winter was won by some Ethiopian or another. Speaking of women, good luck to bib number 49, some girl named Kate van Buskirk.