A high-jumping old boy was back on familiar turf to present the junior medals. Like a giraffe at the watering hole, he stooped in the afternoon haze with congratulatory words for each budding athlete. Above this gentle creature, a bumper crop of prickly parents competed for the best views from the packed stands.
Pete's absence went unnoticed. He lay alone in the feathergrass behind the hammer cage, far from the madness and condensed testosterone. He rotated an idle foot to stretch his calf, and pondered the lack of drama in sport these days.
It was mind-numbingly predictable; the same names were applauded religiously at each weekly assembly. Silverware outranked analytical ability. Rugby team members were kings. Pete cringed as he recalled the exclusive maroon neckties and sudden feigned South African accents that had followed the recent ‘first fifteen’ tour of Johannesburg. In the summer, the bulk of them morphed into the athletics team; speed and self-importance, transferable skills. Nobody batted an eyelid when one of these heroes swanned into class insultingly late. Teachers laughed at their jokes. Sarah laughed at their jokes. And sporting elite associated only with their own, of course, cocooned in a cloud of muscle-strain spray. No room for a chess player.
Pete raised his head as the loudspeaker fuelled the tension: a blast of Chariots of Fire to announce the final event. The 3000m Steeplechase is not for novices: four barriers and a water-jump lined each of seven circuits of the track. It was the last of those that interested Pete.
He watched. Waited. It would work in his favour that the leading pack were bunched. The distant bell gave its signal: just one lap to go. They were coming.
Timing was everything. A momentary window of invisibility on the bend, and Pete was in. Fresh as the breeze, limbs pumping, he cleared the oncoming barrier in step with the frontmen, then pushed on, streaming ahead unchallenged. The crowd leapt, parents shrieked as the unknown figure ate up the track. The giraffe stood tall, eyes on the clock. Pete hit the home-strait in full flow, the favourites trailing in his wake. Sweat-banded PE teachers, squinting in disbelief, foamed with excitement. They knew the record could go. The shouts went up.
Metres from the finish line, Pete saw the reflection of a champion in the one remaining water-jump. He stopped, sat down and washed his pawns.
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