I imagine Michael Phelps looks pretty strange to kids; a pair of ordinary legs are overshadowed by that looming torso. Slabs of granite muscle are decorated with thudding veins, all tucked into an impossibly small waist. Likewise Chris Hoy, whose skinny torso contrasts with thighs that could suffocate a fully grown highland cow. And look at Frankie Dettori. At five-foot-four inches and eight stone, if he were anywhere other than on the back of a horse he would be at best a curiosity, at worst a laughing stock.
All of them are scarred by their sport, marked by perseverance, pockmarked by passion. I’m no different, so when the kids snigger and point at me from across the street, I shrug it off. How could they know? How could they appreciate the sacrifices I’ve had to make? I’ve broken barriers. I’ve trodden ground previously untouched by boot or trainer. When fellow competitors whisper tales of derring-do, of impossible feats, it’s me they whisper about. Why would I look like others, when I am so much more?
Leaving the titters and the mutters behind me, I ease myself off the bus. The plaza is already crowded, and I’m asked to autograph a couple of programmes. As I get closer to the main tent, I’d like to say that the spectators part in awe as I approach. They part, sure enough, but it’s out of necessity – no-one wants to get it the way of my stomach. Here though, there is context. Here my stomach is my pride, my living, even. Here fans blow out their cheeks in admiration instead of laughing into their hands.
I enter the tent into a low thrum of anticipation. My fellow contestants are already seated, their piggy eyes on me. I’m the daddy, the don, the pacesetter. There’s no time for hubris, though. It’s focus that’s got me where I am and focus that will land me the title again. Like any athlete, I know my numbers. Eight hours of fasting before the competition, one litre of water in the morning to swell my stomach, seven pies in seven minutes, each five inches wide and one-and-a-half inches deep.
I sit down, close my eyes and breathe in. The day my mouth doesn’t water at the smell of shortcrust pastry, pie-meat, and gravy is the day I know I no longer have it.
As always folks, I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts/comments!