June 12, 2014

Keeping Score

Say one thing about running, say that it's fair.

Well, that racing is. Usually. Mostly.

And in that way, running is largely unique among sports. (Though admittedly, not solely. Swimming, cycling, tri, rowing, the field events, and powerlifting come to mind. Perhaps a few others.)

Controversy already at day one, game one of the World Cup. Brazil beat Croatia, as expected. But likely would not have done so were it not for a horrendous penalty given on a flagrant dive.

Diving is a thing in soccer. Far too big a thing. This is known, and has been known for some time. But efforts to diminish its role have thus far proven ineffective.

And why shouldn't players continue? When it works, as it often does, your team gains a tremendous advantage. When it doesn't, you're virtually never penalized. No risk, very high reward. The calculus is easy.

And so twitter is aflame with indignation, citing the given penalty, and a disallowed Croatia goal as proof of referee bias. The fix was in. Brazil was always going to win. Home crowd. Host nation. Couldn't be otherwise.

Simply, this is not a thing in running. Not really. When Farah doubles in London, there can be no real argument that he wasn't a deserving winner. Check the clock. Fastest wins. The simplest scoring metric there is.

He did not win because Olympic officials felt the need to deliver a  hero to London, and no one can really say so. They can say that he enjoys certain training advantages over his African competitors, or allege doping. And some will. But the race is the race. A naked spectacle, free from outside interference.

It is, to embrace the banality, what it is. And what it is, in this case, is part of the core appeal of running. In a world growing increasingly disjointed, artificial, abstract, it's something concrete. An 18 minute 5k might be good, bad, average, whatever, depending on who you are. But if that's what you ran, that's what you ran.

There is profundity in that simplicity.

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