Friday, August 3, 2012

Gonna Fly Now

TigerBlog felt like he was watching a sports movie this morning when he turned on the Olympic track and field on his computer.

Here was Donn Cabral (Donald, as it said when the names were flashed before his race), the hero of the movie, the one who set all those lofty goals a year ago, and now he was standing at the starting line for the final heat of the 3,000-meter steeplechase.

TB half expected him to break out a tape measure, put Ollie on his shoulders, and figure out that the height of the hurdles was the same as it is back on Weaver Track. Or maybe have him stoically mention to his girlfriend that all he really wants to do is go the distance.

Here was Cabral, someone whom everyone who works in Jadwin Gym had seen run every day in what were simply ridiculous workouts, standing in front of 80,000 people, ready for the third and final heat in the steeplechase, and TB couldn't help but think that somehow this was all really fiction or something, created by Hollywood.

TB knows nothing about the strategy involved in a steeplechase race.

All he really knew - and he didn't even know this until this morning - was that Cabral needed to be in the top four in his heat or have one of the next three fastest times to reach Sunday's final. This was something that, as TB understood it, was something of a long shot.

Cabral has been putting together videos this week, and TB has seen him play ping-pong, marvel at the amount of gear they've been given, talk about his training, talk about his experience.

Track and field follows swimming at the Olympics, with Week 1 all about the pool. The Games are already well underway by the time the first runners, jumpers and throwers get started, and in fact TB believes every other athlete other than those in track and field has already competed.

It has to seem like an eternity for them as they wait for Week 2 to get here.

And then, here it was for the steeplechasers, up to the starting line early on Day 1 of track and field. For Cabral, it was possible that a little over eight minutes into the first few events on the track his Olympic experience could have started and ended.

TB watched the first heat and saw the first American (Evan Jager, who had beaten Cabral at the Olympic Trials), and he seemed in control throughout, easing into second place. Ultimately, it would turn out that Jager ran the second fastest time of the three heats, an 8:16.61.

The second heat featured an Ethiopian runner who slammed into the final hurdle and had to be wheeled away, as well as American Kyle Acorn, who would finish well back.

Then it was Cabral's turn. Obviously he would run in the third heat. What Hollywood sports movie would have him run first?

To get to the final, he needed either a top four finish or to beat the time of 8:22 that was at that moment the third fastest time by someone in the first two heats who had not finished in the top four.

The race itself might as well have been scripted by Hollywood.

Cabral went out quickly and lead for almost the entire race, except that to the uninformed eye, it appeared that he had gone out too quickly and was in an unfavorable position. Midway through the final lap, Cabral was being caught, first by one runner, then two, then three.

Eventually, as they reached the final water jump, he was in fifth - and appeared to be fading.

Of course, this being a sports movie, Cabral heard the dramatic music building to its crescendo - and shifted into another gear.

And just like that, he was sprinting down the last hundred meters, just like he had on so many afternoons outside of Jadwin, regaining fourth and pulling away.

Ultimately, he'd finish fourth in his heat at 8:21.46. He comes back for the final Sunday.

The movie probably ends as he stands at the starting line Sunday, knowing that he's achieved all of his goals. He's probably smiling, waving around to the crowd. Then he turns serious, heads to the start line.

Then there's the starter's gun, and the screen fades to black, leaving the viewer to wonder how he did.

That's how TB would end the movie anyway.

The real audience, though, will get to see how it plays out.

Winning a medal will be a very tall order for Cabral. Still, TB and every other Princeton fan will be rooting hard for him.

TB has been around Princeton athletes for a quarter century, and he can't remember more than a handful who were easier to root for than Donn Cabral.

No wonder he makes such a good movie hero.

1 comment:

YP said...

Thank you for giving Donn the respect he deserves. . Great entry.