Vinita Dawra Nangia
Sometimes even those who get left behind in the race, can end up teaching you a lesson or two!SITTING in the stands, as we cheered on the athletes participating in the Men’s steeplechase event at Commonwealth Games, we saw the Papua New Guinea representative, Sapolai Yao, fall behind. He maintained a steady pace and didn’t falter despite being several paces behind the pack that thundered away, sailing over hurdles and splashing through water.
As the distance between him and the rest grew steadily, never once did he allow the pressure to get to him. He neither increased nor decreased his pace; he just plodded on. There came a point in his seventh lap when the rest crossed him and were now running a complete lap ahead of him. This too didn’t affect him or his pace. He plodded on.
The race had finished for the rest when this guy started his last lap. Keeping the same, steady pace, he ran through the hurdles, jumping, running or splashing where required. He had the crowd’s complete attention now. Rest of the athletes cooled off and moved away. He carried on. When he finally reached the Finish line, he got a standing ovation from parts of the crowd. Agreed, most people clapped more in mockery. However, I would like to believe some of us applauded his spirit too.
What was he thinking as he ran? How was he feeling? He knew his was a lost cause and he was shooting to prominence in front of an international audience not for his achievement, but for his grand failure. And still, he just went on....
I heard my elder son ask his brother, "If you had been in his place, would you have carried on or given up?" The younger one replied, "Of course carried on! There is no option. You have to carry on for your country. What about you?" The elder brother replied thoughtfully, "Yes, I would have carried on too. But poor guy, how must he feel!"
Any Games throw up plenty examples of courage and fortitude; lots of records set, broken and crossed. For me, this "loser" as most would call him, gave me many moments of introspection. Would I have carried on or given up in his place? I have no answer. In the face of such immense pressure, with a stadium full of people and beyond them, an entire world, watching me! The guy must have had nerves of steel, that’s for sure.
Did he go back home satisfied that he never gave up nor pretended an injury, or did he cringe at the ignominy of finishing last? Whenever you follow a game closely, be it lawn tennis, badminton or cricket, you can clearly figure out the moment at which the player gives up; the eyes tell you all. And from that moment onwards the faults and the mistakes begin. And the outcome is clear.
On the other hand, if you keep your fighting spirit alive and put in the same efforts till the last, even if you feel sure you are going to lose anyway, that’s when Destiny may surprise you. The trick is to keep focused on what you are doing and not let anything disturb your equilibrium. As Sapolai Yao did. All he was focused on was finishing what he had set out to do.
Yao had everything going against him. He was from one of the "smaller nation" participants to these "friendly games". He is just under 5 feet tall — the shortest amongst the participants in this race. The Delhi heat didn’t help either. And then of course he was last to finish.
And yet, Yao left an impression. Not just with me. Not just in India. He was also popular with the Melbourne public at the Commonwealth Games in 2006 for his efforts in the steeplechase! But I still don’t have an answer to the question — would I have carried on with such dogged persistence if I had been in his place? I don’t really know… Would you?