This week, Barcelona has been playing host to the European Athletics Championships. The men’s marathon was passing right outside my window this morning and despite not knowing a jot about any of the athletes, I popped outside to cheer them on.
With the start and finish line two minutes from my door in Passeig de Picasso, the athletes had to run four 10km laps of the city, taking in Arc de Triomf, Gaudi’s Batlló and the soon to be defunct Monumental bullring along the way.
The route was clearly devised by a sadist. Not only was the race scheduled to finish at midday in 30 degree heat but as the circuit looped round Parc Ciutadella for the final time, the runners came within metres of the finish line, only for the route to whisk them off yet again along the seafront.
If sadists dreamt up the route then only masochists were running it. Catalans flee Barcelona in August. Fierce temperatures and even higher humidity make anything other than lolling in the shade very unpleasant indeed. Running 26 miles in such conditions doesn’t even bear thinking about.
I missed Viktor Röthlin romping home to victory for Switzerland and José Manuel Martínez taking silver for Spain (I somehow managed to end up behind a tree and a grandstand) but I eventually found a good spot from where I could cheer on the rest.
Barcelona had come out in force to cheer on the athletes and there were big crowds at the finish line. Everyone that made it to the end got warm applause but none more so than Andorra’s Alan Manchado Vila.
A good twenty minutes after Röthlin crossed the finishing line, a cheer came up from my left. Thousands of heads turned to see Manchado, in last place and with several kilometres still to go, run round the corner. We watched in horror as he made the fatal mistake of looking over forlornly at the finish line. It was too much for the man. He pulled up to a stop with the ambulance staff and race officials primed and ready to scoop him up. But the crowd weren’t having it. As the poor man gasped for breath, head in hands, the applause got louder and louder. There were shouts of ‘Vamos!’, ‘Allez!’ and ‘Keep Going!’ The race officials hovered and looked at their watches. Manchado looked hesitant and then started walking. The crowd went wild.
As the last few stragglers crossed the finish line, we had no idea if our man from Andorra was going to make it. Some people wandered off but the vast majority stayed put. There was a man still out there on the course and he deserved to be cheered home. We waited. And waited. A full 57 minutes after Röthlin, we saw the lights of the back-up ambulance and the nodding head of Alan Manchado Vila. He was running again and a crowd of well-wishers had sneaked onto the course to run along with him. To deafening cheers, arguably louder than for those of the winners, he rounded the final corner, applauding the crowd right back as he did so. 19 men never made it to the finish but he did. It was a wonderful moment and proof that sometimes, it really isn’t the winning but the taking part that counts.