(And the awesome racing tactics of Angie Ballard…)
To end the week, we have a feel-good Friday story about Kurt Fearnley’s adventures at the Glasgow commonwealth games. This is a simple story of sportsmanship epitomised and a good example of Kurt Fearnley’s all-round decent blokeyness. Before starting his race in the T54 1500m division, Fearnley had asked about the results of the just finished 1500m women’s race.
He was told that Diane Roy, of Canada, had beaten his good friend and teammate Angie Ballard.
He then went ahead to lead in his event until the last lap to come second to England’s David Weir.
Fearnley, who has won Olympic, World and Commonwealth gold medals at distances from 800m to the marathon, was initially devastated after his second place.
“You convince yourself that you’re strong enough, you’ve done the work,” he said in a flat tone. “Over the next six or twelve months, I’ll convince myself again that I will be the reason that he doesn’t win gold at Rio. That’s what you do. It starts again tomorrow.”
Then he was told that he had been misinformed about Ballard. She had won. On learning this, Fearnley erupted with purest joy.
“Who won gold? I don’t know anything. Ballard! She did not! Holy crap! Angie won! F—!
“I don’t know what to say. I’ve known Ange since I was 11. We were playing in a junior camp in Narrabeen throwing balls at each other’s heads. I’m just over the moon…. That is the best. If there’s ever a good news story about effort and uncompromising drive to do what she does, it’s Angie Ballard. Awesome! I feel so happy now!”
And so Fearnley pushed off, to collect his silver that felt, due to the achievement of his friend, suddenly a lot more like gold.
Angie Ballard had won her race earlier in the night with a clever tactical “wet weather” strategy.
Earlier, As the rain poured down on Glasgow on Thursday, Ballard sat down with her coach to write two lists. One was how they rated her opponents in that night’s final in the dry. The other was how they rated them in the wet.
There were significant differences. “You can discount some of them once it starts to rain,” said Ballard, 32, who, as a Sydney University psychology graduate, had a firm grip on mind games.
“I’ve made the effort over the years to get good in the rain. Some people choose not to train when it’s wet, but I do it so I can be good in both.”
After the first lap of Thursday’s Commonwealth Games final, Ballard led, but soon the Canadian veteran swept past her. Sticking to the inside lane, Ballard was boxed in and trying not to get anxious. While Roy was only having to cope with rainwater off the track, her wheels were acting as a pair of hoses into Ballard’s face. “I felt like I was snorkelling, getting wet the whole time,” Ballard said.
While she sat in behind Roy, the field got strung out as they struggled with the technical challenge, opening the gap for Ballard to hook to the outside and come around Roy as they exited the final turn. “If you’ve got the speed in wheelchair racing and you’re smart enough – which I’m working on, a little bit – you can come home fast,” Ballard said.
She did come home fast, and she won her gold medal commandingly. “It’s a different event to the Paralympics and World Championships,’ she said, ‘but a privilege to be in the Australian team in the Commonwealth Games – very cool!”
So congratulations go to Angie Ballard on running a brilliant tactical race and also to Kurt Fearnley for showing us how focus on the big picture and not sweat the small stuff.