Changing China

Giant on the move

A democratic event

July 21, 2008

Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia crosses the line ahead of Denmark’s Wilson Kipketer and Morroco’s …The most democratic event at the Beijing Olympics may be the 800 metres run.

It’s the race (almost) anybody can win. It doesn’t matter what country you come from, what your skin color is or what your personal best is. It’s the event with no favourites.

When I competed as a middle distance runner, I was told too many times that I was in the wrong event because there was just no way I could compete against East and North African runners.

A silly argument, I always thought.  But if you look around, there are indeed some events that are almost reserved for some countries. In the men’s steeplechase, a Kenyan has won the last six Olympic titles and Kenyans would probably consider it a tragedy if they lost in Beijing.

Ramzi of Bahrain celebrates as he wins the men's 800m race at the world athletics championships in ...In the men’s 100 meters, it would be difficult to imagine a runner from outside the U.S. or the Caribbean winning.

But the 800 is different and has a rich history to prove it.

You can be white European (Yuriy Borzakovskiy in 2004), African (William Tanui in 1992) or Arab (Rashid Ramzi at the 2005 World Championships), you can still win.

You can be the favourite (Maria Mutola in 2000) or an outsider (Nils Schumann in 2000) but if you make it to the finals, the world can be yours. In fact, being the favourite doesn’t help. Just ask Wilson Kipketer, the world record holder, who was upset by Schumann.

WILSON KIPKETER OF DENMARK CELEBRATES AFTER WINNING MEN'S 800 METRE FINAL IN MUNICH.You can be a sprinter and move up (Alberto Juantorena in 1976) or a distance runner moving down (Steve Ovett in 1980), the 800 is your event.

The 800 combines speed, endurance and tactics in a way that strengths and weaknesses even out and runners rarely gain untouchable status.

The most common cliché in sport is that on any given day, any athlete can win. Sure, but I wouldn’t bet too much money against, let’s say, pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva in Beijing.

In the 800, on the other hand, the cliché is true.

Balazs Koranyi was an Olympic semi-finalist in the 800 at the 1996 and 2000 Games for Hungary and since 2004 has been a Budapest-based correspondent, covering mainly political and business news. He will cover the Beijing Games for Reuters.  

Pictures (from top) Borzakovskiy wins in Athens by Nigel Marple, Ramzi wins at Helsinki worlds by Gary Hershorn and Wilson Kipketer takes gold at the 2002 Europeans  by Wolfgang Rattay 


“The most common cliché in sport is that on any given day, any athlete can win.” That is reality and proven time and time again!!!!


I am boycotting the olympics because I am not watching the olympics played in a nations of thieves. The greed of business leaders an stupidity of people is my reason for not watching. I also am not buying products and hope other americans follow suit. China, Mexico,and India all stole our jobs and made me unemployed. I want a job but am not going to take $8.50/hr when I am capable of working for $13.00/hr+. Not to mention the closes employment is over fifty miles away from my home. I think that free trade is a bad idea and should end before another global war is started. And we will see the extinction of the human race.


I’m sure there are plenty of people here and there who plan to boycott the olympics, each for their own reasons; but yours are by far among the most absurd. I won’t even bother to explain why. It’s ignorant, single-minded individuals like you who sometimes make me feel ashamed of carrying an American passport.

Welcome to the world of capitalism. If you’re going to point fingers, point them in the right direction.

Posted by jt | Report as abusive

To boycott the beijing olympics is really pathetic.You americans who creat the most panic in the world even have no right to judge the people living honestly in the east.

Posted by nicholas | Report as abusive

Very good report. The 800 metres are anyone’s race indeed. Especially in Beijing. We have Juri Borsakowski from Russia (an experieced tactician with a great kick), Abubaker Kaki Khamis from Sudan (a much-talented frontrunner), Jaimer López from Cuba (a former 400-m-runner who has improved by more than four seconds since 2006 – hopefully he’s clean…), Gary Reed from Canada (the WC silver medallist from last year), Mbulaeni Mulaudzi from South Africa (a steady contender who is striving for the big point), Youssef Saad Kamel from Bahrain (son of former 800-m-double-world-champion Billy Konchellah), David Lekuta Rudisha from Kenya, Abraham Chepkirwok from Uganda (two darkhorses), Alfred Kirwa Yego (the current world champion) and so on… The only continent missing in this list is Australia. However, even Lachlan Renshaw (PB 1:45,79) might be a force to be reckoned with…

Posted by Tammo Lotz | Report as abusive

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