A few years ago, when Gloucestershire were winning one-day cricket titles the way the Olympians of Great Britain won gold medals at the weekend, the left-arm seamer Mike Smith was waylaid by an autograph-hunting youngster of primary school age outside the County Ground pavilion in Bristol. Which made perfect sense: Smith had recently been an England bowler, if only for a scandalously brief Ashes moment, and was bagging five-wicket hauls in his sleep. And what happened, as he prepared to put pen to paper? "No, mate, not you," said the kid. "Could you pop back inside and get Jack Russell to sign it?"
Jumpers and throwers are the Mike Smiths of track and field: unrecognised, unacknowledged, largely unloved – a little like the elderly nonentity in Twelve Angry Men who makes himself heard in the jury room only when he becomes angrier than everyone else. This truth of sporting life as it is lived in these islands was underlined on Saturday night when, at the top of the main BBC news bulletin, the account of Team GB's three athletics triumphs was illustrated with pictures of two of the triumphant. The odd one out? Go on, guess.
At an important point during the men's long jump, Greg Rutherford's preparations for the fifth of his six attempts were interrupted by a man in a suit who had clearly decided that with Jessica Ennis on her lap of honour, there was only one game in town and it wasn't Rutherford's. A few minutes later, as Chris Tomlinson was summoning the furies one last time for a jump that might propel him on to the podium alongside his countryman, something similar happened. "Sorry Chris, but Mo Farah is being introduced to the crowd," came the message. "Hang on just a mo for Mo, there's a good chap."
On reflection it might have been apposite – not to say funny – if, in celebrating the successful defence of his title in the men's shot, Tomasz Majewski had delayed his joyous cross-track journey from the throwing circle by a second or two. Had he done so, he would have ended up in the midst of the women's 10,000m final – a Brobdingnagian in a world of Lilliputians. Majewski against Tirunesh Dibaba in a head-on collision? Only one winner there. There is not a field athlete on the planet who would not have relished the sight. These people have come to expect a raw deal from virtually everyone involved in athletics: the administrators, the broadcasters, the people in the stands. Yet there have been those among them – the high-jumping Dick Fosbury, the pole-vaulting Sergei Bubka, Al Oerter in the discus and Jan Zelezny in the javelin – whose contribution has been the equal of any track specialist who ever broke into a jog. Was Bob Beamon's leap into the middle of somewhere previously unvisited by the human species not every bit as seminal as Roger Bannister's four-minute mile, Emil Zatopek's triple distance gold or Usain Bolt's victories in Beijing?
Maybe the image of Iron Curtain shot-putters circa 1980, stubbornly fixed in the mind's eye, explains the continuing public disconnect with the field-event fraternity: all those mid-sized mountains of muscle and blubber, with their bushy beards and their tree-trunk arms and their vast daily intakes of steroid sandwiches, served with a side-order of wild boar, cooked and eaten whole (the men were not much better). It would be nice to believe that Rutherford's performance on Saturday night will persuade us to see the jumpers and throwers in a different light – as lead parts rather than mere spear-carriers – for it lost nothing in comparison to that of Ennis or Farah. Nice, but unrealistic.
For years, the notion of female boxing achieving Olympic status seemed more fanciful. Unlike the shot-putting and javelin-hurling representatives of their gender, these women were not allowed to throw anything under Games conditions: not a hook, not an uppercut, not even a dinner plate (terrible joke: please don't hit me). So when Elena Savelyeva, a 28-year-old Russian flyweight, flicked out a left jab at Kim Hye-song of North Korea at 1.30pm yesterday, it was one of the more significant jabs in fistic history.
Across the Atlantic in the United States, there must have been millions wondering what took the Olympic authorities so long in embracing the sport. A Commie and ex-Commie knocking seven bells out of each other? Required viewing down Texas way, you would have to suspect. Certainly, they were watching when their very own Quanitta Underwood took to the ring against Natasha Jonas of Liverpool. Underwood likes to be known as "Queen" and, according to Ariel Levy in a brilliant piece in The New Yorker magazine, sets her face in an "intimidating glower" when being photographed: "not the smouldering invitation of a lingerie model but the aggressive self-possession of a person whose allure – and athletic success – depends on power". And she lost!
There are plenty of fight followers out there who still regard women's boxing as unnatural, as an abomination, but the spirit of the age is not their spirit. Female boxing took its great leap forward in the East End of London yesterday, and there was nowhere better for it to happen. Has there ever been an episode of EastEnders without two women taking swings at each other?
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