Eliud Kipchoge turns the corner, full-on sprinting for the Carlsbad 5000 finish line with not a competitor in sight. He’s not so much a runner, but more a leaper — one graceful, carefully placed stride after another. His face, focused. With a world record in sight, the young man digs deeper, pushing his body beyond all physical constraints and boundaries.
His muscles taut and flexing, Kipchoge charges the last 25 meters with what would be an impressive performance. Official finish time: 13 minutes, 11 seconds — just 12 seconds shy of shattering the 5K world record set by Kipchoge’s countryman Sammy Kipketer on the same course. Close, but not close enough.
(Not that I could do any better. Kipchoge nearly cut my C’bad 5000 time in half, which by all accounts isn’t half bad on my end. I’ll get ‘em next year.)
Two minutes after essentially sprinting a 5K, Kipchoge and the rest of the “zero body fat pack” appear calm, laughing and high-fiving, slamming odd liquids laced with electrolytes and carbohydrates. The common man — those of us who jog 5Ks in the 25 minute and up category — would beg for sweet relief under such brutal physical circumstances.
I’m not exactly sure if many folks outside running circles even know of Kipchoge, or track his progress and achievements (at 25, he is a two-time Olympic medalist over 5,000 meters). No matter, because Kipchoge and his lean-legged brethren represent a higher level of physical conditioning and ability — if not consciousness. And this would be the point of my most current rambling.
Rarely are we able to witness professional athletes perform at consistent championship levels. Plagued by injury, constant loss, poor support or perhaps a lack of fan love, professional athletes are required to overcome extraordinary odds in order to achieve a career best.
So it becomes a bit of a treat when your favorite quarterback, or pitcher, or surfer, or golfer, or what have you, is in what we might call “the zone.” Unstoppable. On fire. Kipchoge’s focus as he eyes the finish line. Jordan dunking from the free throw line. Mickelson donning his third green jacket. Keading missing all three field goals (no, it’s never too soon).
This is just me talking when I say each sport has but a few specialized movements, that when perfected entitle an athlete to certain privileges. Consider your favorite sport. I’ll choose snowboarding for no good reason. I suck at snowboarding — despite being a former instructor — because I’ve yet to perfect a combination of just a few simple maneuvers after all these years. It may explain why I work a desk job, rather than huck 1080s in competition with madmen like Shaun White.
Granted, it takes years of practice, contemplating the nuances of those few simple maneuvers — that and entirely too much conditioning for most of us to handle. We find the pros so appealing because a championship performance is no easy task, and its very nature is an inspiring thing of beauty.
One has to wonder how far professional athletes can possibly push themselves; what else can possibly be accomplished that hasn’t been done already? It becomes a minor problem, I would suggest, when the performance bar is set just a tick below death, a position many “extreme” athletes are beginning to find themselves in.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop being a shameless spectator.
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