May 18, 2012 by David Gillaspie
In the beginning, competition reflected the nature of mankind.
Whether you look to the first life-form slithering from the sea or the Garden of Eden, first place is what everyone is wired for.
First place is the happy place. Losers get disappointment and bitterness. Either way, a third party always has a comment.
From the conversation after the first marathon:
Pheidippides ran into the Greek army headquarters where he found his commanding officer leaning over a table.
“We have won,” he reported, then fell dead.
“Very good,” the commander said.
He studied a map and didn’t look up. He moved one stone on the map.
“Greece 1, Persia 0 for the Battle of Marathon,” he said. “The route is on.”
Another messenger ran into headquarters.
“We have won,” he said, chest heaving.
“That is so fourteen seconds ago. Now help your fellow messenger. It looks as if he needs libation.”
What was the second runner’s name? No one cares, and you know there was a second runner if you’ve seen any war movie.
Here’s a man who ran the race of his life and died and you know what it looks like. Alberto Salazar had a dead man’s face after winning the 1982 Boston Marathon. Who got second? A few years ago he died for fourteen minutes and came back. He’s a modern medicine version of the great Greek.
We know Pheidippides from the investigative journalism of his time, the third party. Sports writer Heraclides Ponticus covered the run a few hundred years after the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC. (For an overview of the era, watch the trailer to 300.)
Hundreds of years even later Plutarch posted his account of the same marathon. You have to appreciate a sports page in books like On The Glory Of Athens as much as you do the urgency of the reporting. There’s no place like first place if you want to be remembered.
Today the word marathon includes an immediate image of a dead runner, a dying runner, and an old-school New York taxi. Or maybe that’s just me. Stick with the runner.
Which sports stories make the archives 2000 years out? Will it be the Harlem Globetrotters, or the Washington Generals; the Dallas Cowboys, or the Buffalo Bills; the Yankees, or the Dodgers; Celtics, or Lakers; John Wooden, or Mike Krzyzewski. (The Greeks weren’t the only civilization with difficult names.)
Legendary winners go to the front of the line, always.
They push their way up. Early training makes a big difference.