Why Wayde makes us smile

TMG Digital


STILL smiling? Of course you are. Maybe a little less frequently and maybe a little less gormlessly. But, yes, you are still smiling about Wayde van Niekerk and all that.

Go on. Don’t feel silly. Here comes another one. What did they say in that chocolate ad all those years ago? Ah, yes: “All resistance crumbles”. So crack that smile already.

Your face hurts? Tell us about it. We’re all still smiling and we will be for days yet. And so we should be.

Van Niekerk’s world record swoop to Olympic gold in Rio on Monday was the chariot race from Ben Hur without the chariots, the horses, the Romans or the Coliseum.

Monday’s epic needed none of that ancient epic’s props to be, well, epic.

It out-Leicestered Leicester City. It turned Lewis Hamilton into an Uber driver. It made Mike more lisp than Tyson.    

Apologies: operating word processing machinery under the influence of happiness can lead to the purplest of prose.

After Van Niekerk came like a comet from lane eight – lane bloody eight! – to do what no human being had done before, that is run 400 metres in as few as 43.03 seconds, SuperSport repeated footage of the race 65 times until midnight on Monday.

It is, of course, still out there on high rotation, feeding the rampant face-ache epidemic.

And every time those 43.03 seconds of wonder are conjured onto a screen near you, aren’t throngs of people spellbound by what they are watching, by what they have watched many times already, by what they will watch many more times yet, by what they will never forget?

Of course they are. And of course you are. So are all of us.

It’s Joel Stransky and Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela all over again, and Mark Williams, twice in two minutes, all over again, and Josia Thugwane all over again, and the Proteas all … nevermind.

Strange, isn’t it, that sport can do this to us? George Orwell was right: it really is war minus the shooting,   a stirring of the blood of even those who don’t seem in the least interested in displays of national pride.

Those whose choice of weapon is the television set fight this kind of war as fervently as the combatants themselves.

We are, in some odd, Disneyfied sense, there in the trenches with our man or woman, or men or women, battling it out thousands of kilometres away in another time zone in accordance with the rules of a sport we don’t fully understand, against opponents we know nothing about.

But we can hear our standard bearers’ hearts beating. We can feel the blinking of their eyelids fluttering the sacred air itself. We can smell their adrenaline.

Hang on. Those are our hearts and our eyelids, and what exactly does adrenaline smell like?

Doesn’t matter. This is about more than Wayde, wonderful though he is. It’s about us, too. And about what it means, in a society too often torn by divisions on every front – race, politics, class, tribe, gender, age, geographic snobbery – to feel as if we are, after everything, one people under one beautiful African sun.

Imagine what a magnificent people we would be if that feeling was real.

And if we could make it last for longer than 43.03 seconds.


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