Gregorio del Laboratorio goes to Spain: day 7

August 26, 1999

Had lunch with media mogul Paul Merca after meeting him at his hotel. The concierge spoke French but not English; I managed to croak out “Nous rencontrons Paul Merca, qui reste ici” before Paul himself appeared.

Paul wanted to know what I thought of being at my first world championship track meet. To me, the most striking thing has been the huge stadium packed with rabidly nationalistic track fans (including a hometown pep band which performs such selections as the theme from The Flintstones). What hasn’t been so immediately obvious is that I’m watching the finest athletes in the world, since, from the stands, they look pretty much like any other group of athletes as seen from a distance — perhaps a bit leaner or more muscular. It’s not until one looks at the race clock (or distance markers or whatever) that one fully appreciates the world-class performances one is witnessing.

Another good night of track and field. First off, we met renowned track statistician K. Ken Nakamura, another contact of Joel’s. Ken turns out to have a Ph.D. in physics and works in the semiconductor industry. Basically, he’s yet another nerd for whom track is a passionate hobby.

We then saw Michael Johnson destroy the 400-meter field to win in a world-record time of 43.18 seconds. The women’s 10K was very exciting, too. In contrast to the men’s 10K, in which none of the favorites was willing to push the pace, the top women raced hard from the gun. The bulk of the pace-setting work was done by Britain’s Paula Radcliffe, who nods incessantly and erratically while running, giving one the impression that she is about to collapse from exhaustion. In the end, she was outkicked by Gete Wami of Ethiopia. Tegla Loroupe of Kenya had the least potent kick of the lead group and wound up with the bronze. The first ten finishers all set seasonal, personal, or national bests.

After the races, we went to a flamenco performance, for which we shelled out 3500 pesetas apiece. It was OK but very repetitive — even moreso because we couldn’t understand the lyrics of the songs. Basically, there were two male vocalists, a guitar player, and a female dancer dressed in (presumably) traditional Spanish garb. The songs were very long and consisted of alternating fast and slow “movements.” In the slow sections, the men serenaded the woman in irregular, coarse musical phrases with lots of drawn-out vowels. (“Hola” might be sung “Ho-oh-oh-oh-oh-la-ah-ah-ah-ah”). Then, in the faster parts, the men would clap out a rhythm while the woman would dance furiously, pounding the wooden floor with her heels in the process. On the surface, the whole thing appeared to be kind of sexist, since the men essentially clapped and shouted at the woman while the woman danced as if in response to the men’s demands. However, since I know virtually nothing about this stuff, I will leave the issue to the women’s studies scholars.

Joel’s quote of the day: “This underwear will be the death of me.” I guess you had to be there.

Just drive it: an official world championships car, complete with Nike logo.
Just drive it: an official world championships car, complete with Nike logo.

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