This is Elliott Denman’s second column on the World Champs 2023 and it is remotely done. Elliott has been to all WC from 1983 to 2022. Elliott always gets us to think about history of the sport and about the host country, Hungary.
LET’S GET SERIOUS:
”THE REAL WORLD’ LURKS
BEYOND THAT BORDER TO THE EAST
Let’s get serious.
Hard to do, of course, in Budapest, with all those grand-glittering-golden performances turned in daily by some of the most Altius-Citius-Fortius-minded citizens of this planet.
Cavorting so elegantly around Nemzeti Atletikai Kozpont – the official title of the venue the telecasters are telling you is the National Athletics Stadium – as well as the Heroes Plaza walk/marathon circuit – they are putting on a grand show at the 19th World Championships of Track and Field (a sport, by the way, that should be renamed track, field, and road.)…
But aware visitors – as well as Hungarian citizens – need to do some deeper delving into the doses of “real world” developments emanating daily at locales not really that far from this historic home of the Magyars.
The Hungary-Ukraine border, I am told, is 927 kilometers away, 575 miles.
Not really much further than, say, Boston to Richmond, Brooklyn to Columbus, Ohio.
And we all have daily reminders of the goshawful horrors and inhumanities from beyond that border.
These matters are one very big reason you won’t be seeing the best sprinters, hurdlers, distance folk, relay racers, racewalkers, leapers, hurlers of heavy objects from Russia and Belarus, the potential podium-climbers dashing around here with their sporting associates from the rest of the world.
Yes, no “independent athletes” here, as they’re likely to be at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
Keep politics out of sport?
Noble thinking. But never going to happen.
Grand plans for the 1940 Olympic Games had been in place. First for Tokyo, then for Helsinki, before global conflagrations made such frivolities impossible. And the 1944 Games were awarded to London and again proved unthinkable.
Fast forward to 1956.
Googling, we’re reminded that “a peaceful student demonstration in Budapest produced a list of 16 ‘Demands of Hungarian Revolutionaries’ for reform and greater political freedom. As the students attempted to broadcast these demands, the State Protection Authority made some arrests and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. When the students attempted to free those arrested, the police opened fire, setting off a chain of events which led to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.
“Commissioned officers and soldiers joined the students on the streets of Budapest, and Stalin’s statue was brought down.”
In response, “Soviet tanks entered Budapest in the early morning of 24 October and opened fire on protesters in Parliament Square the next day. “
Some fled Hungary for sanctuary in the West. Others remained and gritted it out.
And this served as a backdrop to the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games.
Famously, the Hungary-Soviet water polo match turned bloody. Laszlo Tabori ran 4th in the 1500 final. before claiming – with others- a sanctuary in the USA.
Hungarian communism ended in 1989, and the Iron Curtain fell in 1991. Hungary is now a modern nation and a member of both NATO and the European Union.
But it is still riven by an array of debates: Refugees fleeing from assorted global horrors. To look East or to look West. And, surely foremost, the events beyond that border, 927K/575M, to the East.
As Ukraine bleeds, Yuliya Levchenko, Iryna Geraschenko, and Yulia Chumanchenko (high jump); Artur Flefner (javelin); Ivan Banzurek and Ihor Hlavan (35K walk) will be athletes in the world now roots for down the homestretch of the Worlds. It’s hard for many to conjure how these athletes can even think of sport – let alone train for it at a world-class level. But they do just that as so many more cheer them on.
Through four days, Burkina Faso, Serbia, Botswana, and Slovenia, among the many, are on that medals chart, Not Ukraine.
Caught in such crossfire – philosophically speaking – is no less than Sergey Bubka.
The renowned record-smashing, medal-collecting, globally-famed Ukrainian pole vaulter and Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis are still neck-and-neck in the “who’s the greatest of them all” debate.
Bubka, recently presented the Gold Award of Merit by World Athletics, the sport’s global governing body – he’d been a member of its key decision-making Council since 2001 – has said he’s stepping away from the group, with criticism back in his home country a major explanation.
According to the Inside The Games website, there’s talk in Ukraine of his failure to condemn the Russian invasion in February 2022, then revelations that he has been doing business with the invaders by supplying petrol in the occupied regions of his country.
Further, he’s been living mostly abroad since Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion.
And for those prone to even stronger remembrances of not-so-really-distant history, let me tell you about Jemima Montag.
Before the Nazi rise to power and the ensuing Holocaust, Jewish citizens represented nearly one-quarter of Budapest’s population; today, their number is an estimated 110,000.
Ms. Montag, 25, is an advanced biomedical studies student at Australia’s University of Melbourne.
Her grandmother was a miraculous survivor of the Holocaust.
Now one of the fastest racewalkers on earth – and getting faster all the time – she chased home Spain’s Maria Perez the other day with the quickest 20K of her life to claim a precious silver medal,
the lone medal for her Down Under nation – any hue – thus far.
But even more precious was the bracelet she wore throughout the 20 laps of the 12.4-mile event.
It was Grandma’s.
“I think she was on my arm during the race,” said Montag. “I wanted to pay a tribute to her and to thank her for the opportunity I can be here,”
In obvious summation: It’s time to get serious.