By Shane Thomas
While a great deal of sport is devoted to its winners, sport is actually more about failure than success. The same way that every fairy-tale needs a dragon to be slain, sport's tales need a loser to be vanquished and leave the victor exalted.
And like fairy-tales, there is a demarcation as to who plays the role of winner and loser. Two weeks ago, we approached the World Athletics Championships in Daegu with a clear expectation of the men and women who would leave South Korea triumphant. But it turned out to be a championships where many of the sport's understudies decided that this was their time to grab the spotlight and leave track & field's more established names in the shade. The meet became a less duplicitous version of the wonderful Joseph Mankiewicz film, All About Eve.
The list of established favourites that failed to top the medal rostrum became the story of the championships; Usain Bolt, Jessica Ennis, Yelena Isinbayeva, Phillips Idowu, Allyson Felix, LaShawn Merritt all missed out on expected gold medals. The only marquee names who seemed to be unaffected were David Rudisha and Sally Pearson - whose performance in the 100 metres hurdles was arguably the star-turn of the championships.
The reasons for these relative surprises were varied. Idowu, Felix, Ennis & Merritt all performed well - normally well enough to win gold - but came up against a new generation of athletes who seized their moment. Isinbayeva looked ring rusty after taking time away from the sport, with Daegu coming too soon for the Russian. And Bolt... well, enough has already been written about his false start in the 100 metres.
But this needs not be a portent of the established powers being swept away by a new breed of runners, jumpers and throwers, as these World Championships will matter little in a year's time. The countdown to the 2012 Olympics has truly begun, and for the competing athletes, every moment of the next 12 months will go towards ensuring that they arrive in London at the very peak of physical conditioning. While winning a World Championship can make one a national hero, winning an Olympic title makes one a legend.
Coming up short in Daegu only brings London into sharper focus. And the pain of failure could end up as a crucial part of a redemptive summer next year. All these aforementioned athletes are champion performers, and it's not in their nature to settle for second best. We've seen the likes of Bolt and Ennis be dominant on the track. It'll be fascinating to see what happens when their mood changes from supreme to angry.
Daegu 2011 will have left a sour taste in the mouth for some. Which could make London 2012 the place to witness their sweetest revenge.
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