THE DAY I MET A SPRINTER By Simon Pinkerton

Setting up for my talk on smoking cessation at the Health Fair, a buzz went around the convention centre. Among the white walls of teeth attached to tan businesspeople, networking busily like beavers trying to get some synergy on the dam project, I heard there was an Olympic athlete. A sprinter, no less! Sprinting being the least boring of all the Olympic disciplines by virtue of its minimal duration. I told my colleague, who shall remain nameless due to their banality, to HOLD DOWN THE FORT while I went to look for him, and soon I saw a sack of biceps and quads not far in the distance. He was dressed preposterously in mostly Spandex, while every other person wore a suit. I thrust myself towards him:

“Oh hi, are you the sprinter?”

“Yes.”

“Mark?”

“No, Chris.”

“Oh I’m sorry! Chris.” We shake hands. “I don’t know where I got Mark from?”

“Mark is the other one.”

“The other one?”

“Yes the other one at my table. He’s my boss.”

“Oh, ok, right. Um…sprinters have bosses?”

He chuckles. “No, I’m retired. I work for a fitness company.” He’s around 30-years old and…retired. The sprinter pulls his shirt down and towards me to display in full some kind of incomprehensible logo that had previously been mashed up around his nipples.

“Oh right! That’s great. Are you doing a talk today?”

“Yes, on stress management.” I stand there awkwardly staring at him. I guess I had assumed that he would be talking about sprinting.

“Oh great.” We are exactly the same height, so we are staring directly into each other’s eyes, and I have a vague sense that I’m meant to say something to him.

So I go back to sprinting, and all I can think to ask is, “So what’s your fastest time then? Sprinting.”

“10:08”.

“Wow, that’s quick.” He is motionless and unblinking and I’m frozen, gaping at him, imagining a 100-metre race, thinking where 10:08 would get him at an Olympics. Sixth in a final perhaps? Third in a semi? This is good sprinting!

“That’s some good sprinting!” I say. I see his fixed smile waver and become a little more of a grimace, so I scour my brain for something else to talk about.

“Did you ever try running backwards?”

He cuts me off a little. “So uh, I’ve got to go help Mark set up,” he mumbles as his weight shifts away from me and towards the table at the back. I see a man there behind the table. Must be Mark.

“Oh yes of course!” I effuse. “Ok, great to meet you!”

He has a look on his face like I’m crazy and like he can’t believe this is his life now. He mutters, “Yep you too,” which trails off as he makes his getaway and could not be less convincing.

I watch him go and he does get to his table really quickly. Sprinting — like riding a bicycle I suppose. He may be retired but this guy still has it.

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