Think about your grandmother. Yes, that old woman that wakes up in the morning, does the shopping in the market, prepares dinner and spends all the afternoon watching TV. And now imagine her wearing an athletics uniform and trainers and running 200 metres or taking part in a high or long jump competition. Weird, isn’t it?
Images like that were usual in the last European Veterans Athletics Championships, held in San Sebastian during last week, with athletes between 35 and 96 years old coming from all around Europe. I had the opportunity to work as a referee and I would like to share some experiences and situations that where absolutely fascinating.
The simple fact of be still living at the age of 95 is an extraordinary feat. But it is far more extraordinary to practise sport and have the nerve to travel from Finland, Belgium or Russia to compete against other athletes and try, at those ages, to win the title of European Champion. That is the case of Emiel Pauwels (96) and Ilmari Koppinen (95) the only two athletes over 95 that competed in San Sebastian and that faced each other in the finals of 60 and 200 metres. Pauwels won both races, but there is not room for doubt that both runners deserve to be considered as great champions. The Belgian also got the silver medal in the 400m, an event where he was the only over 95 years athlete and competed in the over 90 category.
Here is the video of the 60 metres final in the category of M95, with Pauwels winning by a tiny advantage of 0,12 seconds:
It was also a striking imagine to watch women over 80 running in speed races and after reaching the finish line, when the organization staff boys guide them back to the changing zone, see how their hands slide towards the lads bottom. The spectators could not stop laughing at that surprising view.
But which we can consider “the image” of the championships spread from one phone of the staff members to the others. An old man let his false teeth in the box where athletes put their belongings just before they go to the start line and forgot them there when he finished and picked-up his clothes and his sport bag. The false teeth remained there until a staff member found them when the box was going to be used by another athlete. I suppose that someone brought the teeth to the lost properties room where the owner got them back.
A competition like this, with athletes coming from so different cultures and countries, let us many curious stories. A Russian man, after taking his number and official equipment from the competition headquarters, asked to a staff member where he could catch the bus to Paris, as he had booked a room in the capital city of France, more than 800 kilometres away from San Sebastian. It seems that for Russians 800 kilometres is not a wide distance for travelling. Another athlete, from Hungary, arrived to San Sebastian with 30€ in his wallet and thought it would be enough for spending the whole week in the city. He could not imagine that in San Sebastian you can barely have 2 meals or a very humble one night lodging with that quantity.
The competition is some kind of mix between a “circus” with very old people doing things that you hardly could imagine they were be able to do and an athletics competition with very prepared and conscientiously trained athletes that are too old to compete against the best of the world, but find in the veterans category a motivation to lengthen their sport career.
With more than 3.000 athletes participating, this kind of competition mixes sport, tourism, self-improvement and praise to the old people skills. Although the society makes them seem useless and they are thought to spend the rest of their live prostrated, sitting in their couch watching TV, they still have the courage and vitality for travelling to a foreign country, dress with their nation’s official uniform and run, jump or throw to try to win a medal. Absolutely inspiriting and exemplary for all of us.