[ 3 ] Leo sets a record

Leo chased Alberta many times, just for kicks. She was friends with his sister. The girls were easy prey, nine years younger and a lot shorter, nowhere near as fast. Time and again Leo the big brother spotted them a ten-second head start down the path to the old barn, a path crossed by a fence and narrowed by a thicket. They’d take off, and soon enough they would hear ‘Watch your back!’ He’d snatch both of them by the collar and lift them up into the air and deposit them in the haystack and continue on his run, laughing but not stopping as he trained. And trained, and trained until he was so good at what he does that no one could outrun him. He was the best ever in the whole town. Perhaps the best ever above the Arctic Circle.

Actually Nuuk falls short of the Circle by 165 miles.

Many years later, at an indoor track in the capital, grown-up Alberta was getting a good look at Leo in motion: gliding, effortless, in casual contrast to the more deliberate display by relay partners 1 2 3. She watched as Galileo, picking up speed, accepted the baton without looking back and sailed through the last leg of the race.

At thirty-six year of age, well past the day he should hang up his spikes and move on, he clocked the best times of his life. His recent 400-meter splits were worthy of an Olympian. He should be washed up, yet he was running extraordinary times at consecutive meets at home in Greenland, the far-off once-frozen nation that had never ever fielded a Summer Olympics team of its own.

These hometown races were altogether meaningless. Except that in these very same track and field exhibitions a local woman consistently tossed the javelin to within a few centimeters of the established world record. She was by far the best that Greenland had seen this century.

And there was a mountain of a young man who lifts weights in competition. He also dabbled in the shot put, but he really excelled in weightlifting. He was winning event after local event in either discipline, each time getting a little closer to various world, not local, bests. He won nearly every contest he entered. At each outing he improved on his previous record-breaking performance, and he had stiff competition. He didn’t actually win by much.

Three small-time athletes, then, perhaps more, were bearing down on world record time distance weight. Out of the blue. National records were smashed, international records were on the verge of being rewritten, in a country with no innate Olympic aspirations and practically no Olympic experience at all. With the singular exception of Leo himself sixteen years back, his fourth-place performance with a Danish relay team in the 2064 Olympics in Lesotho, no athlete from the archipelago had ever competed in the Summer Games. Not for Denmark and never for Greenland.

It was highly improbable, this across-the-board improvement in Greenlandic athletics. With it came an interest in fielding a representative team for the upcoming Games. The International Olympic Committee took notice of the record challenges and sent an advance crew of three to investigate: Wilhelm Dieter an expert on all sorts of measurement techniques and timing devices; Pasquale Calendaria PhD a respected senior forensic scientist; and Alberta Niutin a PhD in the making, ABD (all-but-dissertation), a graduate student in aerodynamic engineering in the laboratory next to Professor Calendaria’s. Alberta might be a decent scientist, or will be someday, but she was really included for her cultural insight. The center of attention, Nuuk, the sovereign capital of rump Greenland, was her hometown.

The investigators scrutinized the near-record claims, and they witnessed future performances. And they openly embarked on a parallel line of inquiry to determine whether and how the wholesale improvement in performance could be ascribed to drugs, to illicit substances. Alberta was most intrigued by Galileo’s recent ascent. She had no idea whether the other athletes were performing at their maxima naturally attained. But from what she knew of Leo, she had serious doubts that he would take the steps needed for his performance to be positively influenced by anything at all, anything grown or manufactured. Performance diminishing substances might make their way in, maybe. Performance enhancers, no.

The IOC trio attended the next track and field meet, inside an arena at the edge of town. A huge chunk of ice abutted the main entrance to the indoor arena. This was serious ice, an imposing tenacious slab, unlikely to melt any time soon. The modus operandi of the IOC investigators consisted simply of making parallel measurements of all parameters relevant to a given event. Willi was meticulous in his documentation. At the shot put he measured the circle (seven feet) and the toe board (width: 10.16 cm). He measured the distance with each put from inside the circle to the nearest disturbance of soil caused by the shot. He weighed the shot itself (one after another came in somewhat light at 6.984 kg / 15 lb 5.85 oz). He weighed the shot putter (a hefty 138 kg / 303 lb). At the javelin throw he used his laser to survey the event venue, in the process adding eight centimeters to the winning toss. In neither event was a record established, but the athletes got pretty close.

And then the IOC team settled in for Leo’s race, except for Willi. He was preoccupied with finding the optimal position from which to record both start and finish. Finally satisfied, he signaled to the referee that he was ready to time the race in duplicate, and the relay began. The first leg and the one after were quick but sloppy. Two separate teams nearly dropped the baton. Leg number three started for Leo’s team with a stumble at hand-off and a deft recovery. There was no clear leader as Leo accepted the baton for the anchor leg. He was graceful, so graceful, there was no difference between right and left, his first stride from his last. He simply powered past his rivals in lanes one two three four. The stadium clock put the finish at x:xx.xx. Willi had it in x:xx.xxx.

Willi checked his clocks, both ticked to the same thousandth.

‘I don’t know, Willi. Something’s not right.’

Alberta imagined that the track should be boxy, like a rectangle with rounded corners. This one seemed stretchy on the sides blunt on the ends. More like a hotdog.

‘Maybe they ran a 4-by-380.’

In due time Willi determined that Leo and the sprinters did not cover 400 meters between each passing of the baton. They went farther. Around the track Willi rolled a simple rubber wheel with a ticker thingee, and found the distance covered on each leg of the relay to in fact average 404.2 meters. For the sake of investigational argument he subtracted one percent from each team’s time. Their adjusted total for the 4-by-404-minus-4 was 0.003 seconds faster than the existing world record.

His sprint partners were stunned. Leo took the news in stride. The athletes obliged requests for blood and urine, breathalyzers, even hair samples. The auditors made note of the altitude [28 meters above new sea level (NSL)], temperature (14°C / 57°F), and wind speed (the meet was indoors; a negligible two knots/hour). They recorded body weight, skinfold thickness, height, age for the sake of completeness. The laboratory analyses were returned that very day: serum, the blood minus its cells and clotting factors, was positive for high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Likely source: cold-water oily fish.

Nothing else of interest appeared in the blood or urine. There was no erythropoietin, no methandrostenolone, no oxandrolone, no anabolic steroid synthesized or imagined, and no excessive levels of endogenous anything except one hormone detected in the urine of Arnaaluk, the javelin thrower: human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Arnaaluk was pregnant, just barely, the result no doubt of a tried and true Scandinavian method of preparing for important athletic events. Clean as a shiny silver referee’s whistle, that’s the conclusion drawn by Dr C, Willi and Alberta. Their report was filed with the IOC.

Soon after that a request for participation was submitted by the Greenland Olympic Organizing Board (GOOB), a group hastily composed of the governor, the university athletic director and two businessmen from the capital. GOOB requested permission to enter its athletes in regional competitions. And getting ahead of itself, GOOB wanted to host a regional event. This latter request would in due time be turned down for lack of proper facilities. After a bit of wrangling all agreed that the times weights distances verified by the IOC advance crew were certifiable for application to regional qualifiers, although the lightness of the shot merited an asterisk. The athletes would be welcome at the qualifiers in Europe. And after the Games were completed, Greenland could host an exhibition, not a regional, this coming cycle. The 2080 Olympic Games were only four months away.


Photo by Iucas Favre on Unsplash

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