The behaviour of the Greek crowd last night, which held up the start of a tremendous men's 200 metres final here, really did shock me. Lining up were not just the three superb young Americans who stormed the race and swept the medals, but Frankie Fredericks, aged 36, in his fifth and last Olympic final, one of the venerable and popular greats of athletics.
And for whom was the booing, the protests, the chants of "Hellas" from so many in the crowd? For Konstadinos Kederis, the guy whose missed doping test covered the start of these games in scandal and was exactly the kind of publicity our sport did not need. The crowd's reaction was a total surprise, and it did make me wonder. I've always been adamant that doping has to be stamped out and the firmest of sanctions applied to any athletes who break the rules. I suppose I've always assumed that fans, spectators, also want the same, that to them, too, the sport means nothing if it isn't clean.
Here we had a protest for an athlete who was absent because he missed a test, then he withdrew himself from these Games. The athletes lining up are the fastest men in the world at this distance, because they have worked hard and done it cleanly. So the crowd's reaction seemed to say: we don't care. Actually, we don't want to inquire too deeply, to look beyond the surface; we want our hero, and we almost don't care what he's done. They seemed to be obsessed with the celebrity of their man, and they wanted their fairy-tale, of the Greek hero who beat the world, not to be troubled by the facts which the world's media could not have covered in more exhaustive detail.
That shocked me. Athletics delivers great feats, but they are achieved by real people who have worked hard, within the rules. The crowd needed no greater example than the American guys, and Fredericks, who managed to bow out of the sport with a fourth place in an Olympic final - wonderful. Earlier, one of our own, Steve Backley, made the javelin final and I am so pleased for him. Steve is another old stager, who has worked hard to achieve success for so long - I'm not sure people realise the effort it takes to come out and campaign season after season as he has. Now he, too, will say farewell at an Olympic final, a great way to retire. All athletes want to choose when they take their leave, not have wrecked bodies demanding they are put through no more pain. I hope Steve will do well in the final but, whatever the result, his is a great example.
Yesterday held another bright spot for British athletics: Chris Tomlinson's phenomenal performance in the long jump to finish fifth. Still 22, he nailed the first round with a jump of 8.25m, which left him just a few centimetres off a medal. That's athletics at this level, the tiny difference between the podium and the rest. So much of the work is to achieve those few centimetres, those hundredths of a second, which make the difference.
Chris's reaction told us a lot: he was content with his performance, but disappointed to fall short of a medal. He said he was going to work incredibly hard and listen to what his coach told him. That revealed a determination, dedication, a realisation of what I will take for him to be in the medals next time. In that attitude, we saw some hope for the future.Reuse content