Whew – we’re officially back from LA with more pictures, stories, and memories than you can imagine. It was such a whirlwind experience for the entire family back with emotional highs and lows against the backdrop of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.
Alex’s first event of the Games was the 10,000 meter run. While the shorter events had preliminary divisioning rounds, the longer distances were divisioned based on times the athletes provided – from events they have run in the past year. The USA team was well represented with three outstanding track and field stars ready to pound the pavement!
The track events were held at USC’s Loker Stadium under the scorching rays of the summer LA sun. Let me tell you, it was steaming inside the track and the athletes had to run a whopping 25 laps for this event. The bonus is continuous and constant cheering but the downside is boring and monotonous laps.
Across all the divisions there were just 12 athletes in this event.
A 10,000m race is just a more “Olympic” way of saying a 10K. Alex has done so many that he’s very aware of his general pace time and was ready with his Garmin to help pace appropriately. You can’t imagine how difficult it is not to leap out at the gun way too fast with the adrenaline coursing through you!
Because they ran all the athletes together, you had some runners continuously lapping the slower athletes. This was one of those events where you really had to block everything out and run your own race because finishing later didn’t necessarily mean you weren’t in the medal hunt. They took the Olympic qualifying times from previous races, grouped those athlete together, and then you ended up being placed based on how you did compared to those in your same division. In the Winter Games two years ago, Alex was always in division 1 (the hardest division) but because he’s not as fast as many shorter distance sprinters, he would end up in a slightly lower division here.
Around and around and around the track…
Somewhere in the middle of the race, the official lap counter stopped working – meaning the race was then switched over to racing officials to keep track of which runner was on what lap. While that should have been the back-up all along, it took everyone by surprise…
Alex couldn’t get an official word on his lap count, so he relied on his Garmin to tell him when he had hit 6.2 miles. So he would complete a lap, check his watch, and then loop again. Over and over. He finally hit the magic number, passed the end of the loop, and walked over to much-needed water only to be told he was a lap short!! Alex showed his Garmin to the official, explained that he had completed the entire race… and was then forced to go back out and run another lap.
My family was in the crowds screaming (they HAD been counting laps). They knew he had run an extra lap.
It took 2 1/2 hours after the conclusion of the event for them to sort through official protests (they thought 3 other runners were all a lap short) and then figure out what to do about divisioning. Since there had been 12 athletes, that meant everyone would walk away with a medal. However two runners cramped and had to stop – leaving 10 at the end.
Instead of awarding based on the original divisions (3 people per division), they opted not to have a division of one person and instead decided that one division would have 4 people… Logic would assume the very last finisher in the event would be the one with the 4th, but they decided they would move Alex from his 1st place seat and instead bump him up a division and award him 4th. So at the end, every person got a medal except Alex despite the fact that 5 runners that finished after him all got medals (including 2 gold and 2 silver).
Alex was crushed. We all were.
(Alex receiving his finisher ribbon)
There’s a lot you can learn from this experience though. Alex was horribly discouraged and upset but was graceful and full of smiles on the podium. You’d never have known just how frustrated and tearful he was just hours earlier at having been told he’d won gold only to end up with nothing at all. I wish I had that kind of grace.
Ironically, the next morning the Olympic newsletter came out with a big section called “Medaling Moments” with all the pictures of the medalists so far… guess what picture graced the cover of the album…???
I guess he can’t help being so darn photogenic but the bitter irony that he didn’t actually medal wasn’t lost on all of us. But a true champion, Alex bit back the disappointment, licked his wounds, and spent the following day resting and enjoying the other events with the family. On the positive side, he did run his fastest 10K ever – nice way to start your Olympics, isn’t it?
More results and trip info to come!