BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 15, 2016–While many experts have opined that the outside lane is the hardest position from which to race and possibly break a record, because you can’t see where your opponents are until the final stretch, there is some Belizean race history that I recall, that helps to explain the other side of the coin. Aside from dealing with a less severe curve in the outside lane, versus the inside lane with the tight curve that takes a greater toll on the legs, running from in front can also have the effect of spurring the front runner from the imagined chase, while running from behind could possibly lead to some complacency if the outside lane runners are caught quickly.
In the 1969 Belize City inter-secondary schools track meet at the MCC Grounds, the 400-meter heat was run, I think, on a Thursday evening. One of my older brothers, Michael, had won 8 blue ribbons (1st place) at the SJC track meet about a week earlier – 100m, 200m, 400m, 4x100m relay, long jump, triple jump and high jump, and one other (not sure if it was the 800m or the baseball throw). But, in the inter-secondary schools 400m heat that Thursday, when Migale blew out of the start and darted out front for the first 100m, he saw his SJC track teammate/coach Freddy Evans on the sidelines frantically shouting and gesticulating to him to slow down, as he was going too fast so early in the race. Migale misunderstood Freddy’s message; he thought Freddy was exhorting him to go faster. Migale blasted around the track all the way to the finish line, way, way ahead of the rest of the field, who were at least 40 or 50m behind. The time clocked for that 400m heat was 49.0 seconds, running barefoot on the MCC grass, certainly a record at that time. (By comparison, in the recent BAA Nationals, running with track shoes on the new synthetic rubber track at the Marion Jones Sporting Complex, Mark Anderson won the 400m in 49.35 seconds, a full 5 seconds ahead of his second place competitor. Mark also won the 200m in 21.21 seconds.)
Wayde van Niekerk broke his record, but he did not beat Michael Johnson on Sunday. Who knows, if a van Niekerk was ahead of him in the race, if Johnson would have found the extra to catch him? It’s a new age, and a new champion. But it is still a race, man against man; and when we’re talking about miniscule fractions of a second, and decades apart, argument will get us nowhere.
Hail van Niekerk, the great young champion and new 400m record holder from South Africa!!