The Men's 1500-Meter Final and the Hurdles of International Dating
by Jon Gugala
LONDON - Last night was the Olympic men's 1500-meter finals, and so in the fine English tradition of sporting events blurred by alcohol I decided to leave my apartment (quizzically called a "flat," though I am elevated on the second floor) and catch the race in a bar (called a "pub," though this is deceptive as most authors' publishing rates trend downward the more they frequent them).
Another reason I went was that I was meeting a very attractive Australian model that I hoped to make out with.
So we found a random pub/bar (heretofore referred to as a "pubar") in Notting Hill that had the fun quirk of hanging vintage chamber pots from the rafters, and we positioned ourselves at the corner in direct path to the bathrooms so that every time someone walked past, our crossed legs would be nicked, brushed, or knocked into. It was not private in the least, but we were here to share a Cultural Experience.
I tried to explain to this beautiful, exotic woman the history of the men's 1500m in the U.S., how the U.S. athletes Matt Centrowitz and Leo Manzano were struggling under the Weight of Time since the U.S. hadn't medaled since Jim Ryun's 1968 silver. The language barrier made it difficult to communicate, however; whenever I said "men's 1500-meter," she would say "women's 100-meter hurdles" and sometimes the name "Sally Pearson." I suspected we were talking about the same thing, similar to a pubar, so I didn't question it.
The two Americans have shown promise recent, I went on: Centrowitz, after a bronze medal at the 2011 world championships, was the runner-up of the U.S. trials, and Manzano seemed to be putting all the pieces into place this year with his masterful win at the trials and elsewhere. It was confusing, though, because this woman--let's call her Dani--kept calling Centro "Dawn Harper." (I knew it was Centro because she kept referring to him/her as a "danger," and I fully agreed with her assessment.)
But despite this recent turn in fortunes, the U.S. men were overwhelming long shots when facing Kenya's Asbel Kiprop, who in July set a world best of 3:28.88, the fastest time in the last eight years. Add into the final two other Kenyans, an Ethiopian, a Moroccan, and a Kiwi coming off the best race of his life, and they were long shots for a U.S. medal.
"A LoLo chance," Dani said, and I said, "Um, yes. Exactly," and nodded rapidly. I'm pretty sure this was some kind of Australian idiom like "shrimp on the barbie" or "Fosters."
The race finally started and after a few mind-numbing laps of little importance the bell rang and the real kicking began. Holy hell, I thought, U.S. men are still there. I grabbed Dani's hand because I felt she wouldn't tell me to remove it until this very-important-to-me race was over. I had approximately 53 seconds.
Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria was pushing hard from 410 meters out, and around the backstretch he'd opened a gap of five meters. The only real question was if he was going to hang on. He would to take the win in 3:34.08. But Manzano, positioned in the back of the saner lead pack, and Centrowitz, in the front, were moving. Manzano swung wide around the curve, snapping up five men on his way to the silver medal in 3:34.79. Centrowitz, initially positioned farther ahead but unable to kick as sharply, was only .04 seconds off of bronze and a fading Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco, 3:35.13 to 3:35.17, respectively. Centro would finish fourth.
It was the best night in years for U.S. mid-distance and the worst in years for the Kenyans: Two Americans would finish in the top four while Kenya wouldn't break the top six. Silas Kiplagat, who has a 3:29.63 SEASON BEST, was seventh as the highest finisher, and Kiprop would finish last, with compatriot Nixon Kiplimo one spot ahead in 11th.
I tried to explain this to Dani, this gorgeous, smart, sexy goddess at my side, but in the language of her people, so I said, "Sally Pearson just won a medal. That hasn't happened in, like, ever," feeling sure she'd appreciate my exaggeration.
Dani looked at me with the sad eyes reserved for nursing home visits and said, "Yes, she did. It was 30 minutes ago, and it was an Olympic record in 12.35 seconds."
I smiled in response, knowing that this variance in numbers probably had something to do with the metric system and/or the currency exchange rate. And I smiled at her because I knew when she said "Olympic record," she really meant "Season Best," which was true for both Manzano and Centrowitz, so I said, "We should have a drink to celebrate."
There were tequila shots and limes, and I Instagrammed a photo to preserve this great moment in history when the U.S./Australia won an Olympic medal in the 1500m/100m hurdles. I have no comment on whether or not we made out later (YES, I DO; YES, WE DID; AND YES, IT WAS AWESOME), but I will say that I prepared for the bite of that drink knowing that we were finally speaking the same language.
Sitting on the barstools in a random London pubar, I raised my tiny glass of tequila toward Dani, a woman who lived on the other side of the world from my home in California, and said, "Here's to Australian hurdling." She raised hers to me and said, "To American mid-distance." Then we drank that bitch down.