World Masters Athletics, Where Every Runner’s Rights
Competition and sociality, individuality and collectivity. Thanks to Karhu, we discovered a unique event, the WMA
The buzz and the silence. The joy and the disappointment. The social spectrum of World Masters Athletics is directly proportional to the emotional one. In the Finnish sports festival of Tampere, the balance between sporting achievement and human connection takes on connotations that are unmatched, unparalleled. A few slides, a few images are enough to sum up what went on between June 29 and July 10 near Ratina Stadium.
The exchange of words and gestures between a 60-year-old Finnish decathlete and a direct Chilean opponent after a missed jump. The embrace between a 50-year-old Indian 200-meter runner, who finished last more than 8 seconds behind the winner, and an opponent from Trinidad and Tobago lying on the ground after a valiant and vain final progression. The Spanish delegation’s masseur engaged in dissolving the lactic acid of a 76-year-old Puerto Rican sprinter, who, in turn, compliments him with the tale of his own life. Also. The moonlit chat (although you can’t really talk about the moon, given the 20 hours of Scandinavian sunshine) of a group of athletes mixed in age and background at one of the bars overlooking the dark Tammerkoski Canal.
“World Masters Athletics combines two fundamental components,” explains WMA president Margit Jungmann lucidly, “on the one hand we have the sport, the competition, the desire to set a goal, pursue it and see it materialize into a world-class event. On the other we have the social component, the desire to meet other cultures, to become part of a community based on a huge shared passion: athletics.”
In order to understand the importance and uniqueness of this event, imagine the concept of ‘limit’ and erase it from your mind. Men and women over the age of 35 compete in a wide variety of athletic disciplines divided into categories: the first from 35 to 40, the last over 100. There is no limit to the process of improvement. Whether it be physical or mental. There is no limit to the pursuit of one’s personal best. Whether you have just passed the 40-year mark or are about to turn 90. There is no limit to the idea of revolution, of personal change. Whether you are a former Olympic athlete or a track novice.
In the Nordic country that gave birth to the golden generation of the ‘Flying Finns,’ revolutionary middle-distance runners of the 1920s, led by multiple Olympic champion Paavo Nurmi, athletic endeavor has found other meanings: the meanings of resilience, of eternity, of individuality turned into collectivity, and vice versa. The outcome is only part of the process, these athletes teach: it is a relevant part, let’s be clear, but not a all-encompassing one.
It can be explained by Annie Dorina, a 65-year-old French mother and former manager, who for more than two decades had to give up track following the course of life and who at 53 years old took up triple jumping, a discipline she had never been able to do at a young age because of gender stereotypes and preconceptions. It can be explained by Pei-Jung Huang, a 48-year-old R&D manager who uses the decathlon to encapsulate as much information as possible and pass it on, through example, to the younger generation in Taiwan. It can be explained by Ivan Gonzalo Ortiz, 76-year-old Puerto Rican sprinter who came from the other side of the world solely to pay tribute to the memory of his late father-athlete.
Results that become stories. Stories that become results. Thanks to Karhu, official sponsor of the World Masters Athletics in Tampere, we were able to discover a colorful universe of testimonies, sacrifices and ideals, a universe composed of infinite personal microuniverses, all equally important, all equally significant. The profiles we have told and will continue to tell are the more or less conscious stars, the pulsating part, the manifesto of the WMAs. That’s why we shared with Karhu the claim ‘Every Runner’s Rights,’ that’s why we decided to start an investigation that knows to be sporty, but above all anthropological and social.
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