Last week, sprinter Koji Ito, Japan’s fastest man, became the first Asian to run 100 meters in less than 10 seconds. Performing at a college meet in Hiratsuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, Mr. Ito was timed with a stopwatch at 9.90 seconds; his achievement will only be unofficial, however, since the Japan Amateur Athletic Foundation does not recognize times measured with nonelectronic devices.
Mr. Ito’s feat is a great one, although it is dimmed a little when put into perspective. Mr. Jim Hines first breached the 10-second mark in 1968. And half a world away, on the very same day that Mr. Ito earned his footnote in sports history, an American was rewriting the record books himself: Mr. Maurice Green exploded out of the blocks in Athens, Greece, to shatter the world record for the 100 meters. He finished in 9.79 seconds, shaving 0.05 seconds off the existing mark held by Canada’s Mr. Donovan Bailey.
Cracking the 9.80 barrier set new standards for track performances. It was a bar that had defied many of the world’s finest athletes; Mr. Primo Nebbiolo, a former sprinter who now heads the International Amateur Athletic Federation, said that the 9.80 mark had been thought to be “unreachable.” But Mr. Green has vowed that this new record is just the beginning. It promises to be a great summer for track fans.
Mr. Green’s feat is both timely and symbolic. Timely, because it provides a welcome change of focus from the scandals that seem to dominate the sports world. Allegations of doping, bribery and corruption in the Olympics have turned the stomachs of most fans.
Then there is the symbolism of the new record. Mr. Green set it in Athens, birthplace of modern track and field. Moreover, he did it in the 100 meters, perhaps the purest and simplest event of them all: Although there are other competitors, it is ultimately each runner against the clock. During the quick dash to the tape, there is no time for cynicism, no cover for individual failure, no room for excuses. That is how sports should be contested. So, celebrate the new champions and wait for the next competition. And hope for more of such successes and fewer scandals.
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