Berlin, Olympic Stadium, May 2064
The two men sat reclined against the plush comfy seats in the 160000 seater “Merkel Arena”, named after the great German stateswoman who united the squabbling dysfunctional states of the then European Union into the Federal States of Europe. Despite this, the federal states still kept much of their old identity and the two men, from the outskirts of Europe in the former Irish Republic, had seen the traditional flags of France, Great Britain, Hungary and Turkey paraded along with the newer states of Scandinavia, Iberia and the united Basque state. The event had lost a bit of its worldwide reach since the energy crisis of the 30ies and the droughts of the 50ies which had taken their toll on Africa in particular, but the power-houses of sport were still there: mighty China, Russia, Mexico, Brazil and Australia to name just a few.
At the centre of the area the 3000m race walking competition neared the end and the crowd cheered the leaders on as they battled for the win. A javelin thrower clenched her fist in the background while in the corner a group of athletes were gearing up for the next event.
“Look, the joggers are getting ready,” said the older man to the younger. His name was Pat, just as his dad before him and his granddad too. He’d travelled to Berlin with his workmate Glenn, a name that had recently come back in fashion in the late 30ies. “Hybrid running” was generally referred to as running these days and the crowds would always gaze at their screens interested to see what contraptions the competitors would wear this year.
“When I went to my last Olympics,” began Pat, “I remember it well, I was in my thirties, like you, that was the last time they allowed joggers to compete with runners.” Glenn nodded for he had heard the story, although it was hard to believe now, how for years Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes had demolished the other nations with ease. In the end the dominance had been so complete that some feared for the sport. That was until Nobel prize-winner Dan Liebermann proved conclusively that most of the competing runners were, in fact, not running but rather using a strange hybrid movement not seen in nature. “Aye, some shock it was for the Africans in 2046, I was there as well,” he paused to sip at his bottle of purified enriched water, “a bunch of our lads, barely out of school, sweeping all before them in their bare feet. I remember the media saying life had gone too easy in Kenya, that was then, of course.”
In the meantime, the joggers had donned their footwear, some wore the Nike SolarGlide Plush (marked with an artistic “+”), others the ASICS Super Samurai SuperSpring and most the audacious looking Hoka OneOne which always drew great cheers from the stands. The ability to stay properly balanced and attempt to land safely with each stride was a badge of honour among joggers, and only the best could hope to be effective and stay injury free in the really high-heel models with heavy layers of thick foam. Competition regulations required at least 11mm of heel to toe differential and the sole could be no less than 12mm thick so as to ensure no sensory feedback from the ground would come through to aid the jogger’s stride.
Over the last decade several members of the Olympic Committee had voiced the opinion that the discipline of hybrid running should be removed from the Olympic schedule in favour of more popular sports but the Worldwide Joggers Association (WJA) had pointed to race walking and roller-blading as posing similar challenges to the athlete so if they stayed, so should jogging. Much of this debate might have been avoided if the proposed merging of the sports of race walking and jogging had occurred in 2053.
The IOC’s concerns were understandable, the beleaguered committee had been inundated with requests for inclusion in the Games from the early 20ies onwards. By 2024, the governing body then caused quite a stir by requiring sports wishing to be considered for Olympic scheduling to have existed for at least 50 years and have 10 or more recognised living competitors. This had proved a terrible blow from which some sports, such as sideways running, had never fully recovered although the “International Association of Lateral Pedestrians” still organised annual World Championship events.
“It’s a pity about the croquet,” Glenn remarked, “it would have been a natural fit but after the golf disaster of 2012, they won’t risk another game involving a club.” Pat nodded to that, he had seen Formula 1 and Ultimate Fighting come and go as well. In the meantime, the joggers were off for the first of 25 laps. These world class athletes would likely cover the distance in less than 28 minutes, remarkably close to the times achieved by the runners who would compete later, but then again, most ordinary people were always shocked how race walkers could often outpace both joggers and runners at a less competitive level.
“It does look bizarre, though, and so unnatural,” said Glenn, “at least the race walking looked skilful, in its own strange way.”
“I used to compete like that,” Pat replied, “but when the split came most people got the training and moved on to running, it was just considered too dangerous for most to continue. I really admire these chaps, putting their body on the line like that, day after day.” Glenn didn’t know much about the sport at all, he was a soccer man, he’d heard about the risk alright, and how most joggers would cross-train with running a lot of the time and then try to get used to the powerful push-off through the use of isolated strength exercises and biomechanically inefficient jumping.
“It’ll be hard for them to keep the sport going,” Pat remarked to break Brandon’s stream of thoughts, “it’s so hard to find a gym that will allow the usage of seated machines and stretching today, the insurance just cannot cover it. This could be the last time you see it here, so best enjoy it.” Brandon did, in his own way, once the joggers picked up speed, some of them looked graceful enough, it was amazing how they kept control even as you could see the unstable platform shift beneath their feet. And then, it was over, 29:50 was the winning time, a very slow heat but standards had fallen in the event after the split as very few stayed on and today hybrid running had less participants than race walking globally.
“Look the runners,” Pat pointed, it was time for the main event of the day, the men’s 50k run which would start and finish in the stadium before taking a major tour of Berlin, including a circuit of the European Central Bank, which had been moved there after rioters burned down the original headquarters in Frankfurt in 2015. Pat’s father had thrown the first fire-bomb, he liked to say, but most doubted it, the crowd being made up mainly of Germans angry at the frivolous spending of German capital.
Glenn was busy seeing the runners line up, including the favourite from New Zealand, Arthur Magee, who had a remote ancestor with Olympic pedigree, it was said, although no one remembered who. The Mexicans wore their custom-made sandals, the South Africans went bare foot and so did the Australians, the British and Irish runners sported the Inov-8 Bare-X 5000 (it’s weight in micro-grams) while the Americans wore last year’s bestselling running shoe – the Nike Nude (apparently it made you feel like that). Most had predicted the demise of Nike when the dangers of cushioned footwear became widely accepted, but after buying up Adidas, Mizuno, Newton, Brooks and Merrell in quick succession, the barefoot technology market had become dominated by the American giant.
Gunshot. And the runners were off, their legs almost pedalling below them as if on unicycles, their feet leaving the ground almost as soon as they landed. The sports had reached new heights in the decades since technical training had been perfected, and the New Zealand athlete, Arthur Magee, was known to run 300 miles weeks and eschew all modern comforts. Some called him “The Monk” but his sponsors preferred “The Assassin” which was suitable, as he sat there just behind the lead pack, as he always did, hovering apparently listless, yet ominous, with his silent footfall and his black singlet. Then, in the first corner, a runner trips, as the crowd gasps. Avoiding the stampede, the unlucky Englishmen is helped off the track with his gashed knee. He looks up to the crowd, then smiles and waves. Injuries are so rare in runners, perhaps he saw a rare chance for a break from the regular 2-3 runs done by the elite. It would be a long tough day because it was a very warm May day. The Olympics had been moved away from mid-summer since the ever warmer weather had begun to harm performances, but it would still be 26 degrees Celsius by Noon time.
“More water,” Glenn handed his bottle towards Pat, “No, I wish they had never banned Guiness.” The two men watch in silence as the runners exit the stadium.
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