A Snapshot From The History Of Athletics

Here is another potsage [sic] exhumed from the archive. It is from July 2005 and marks the very first appearance on these pages of fictional athlete Bobnit Tivol who, I am somewhat alarmed to note, I claimed was my father. What this might mean is for a quack brain doctor to unravel.

When I turn my mind to the great sprint champions of the past, I often think of Bobnit Tivol. He came from the Tyrol, and he was such a fast runner that it was said he could outrun an express train, which was a strange thing to say, for at that time there were no trains, express or otherwise, in the Tyrol. But of course Bobnit Tivol was famous throughout the world, and he often raced in foreign countries, so it is conceivable that he was tempted on one of his travels to compete against a railway train. His trainer was cranky old Halob, who himself had been a very great sprinter. Making his champion run in front of, rather than alongside, a speeding train is exactly the kind of technique Halob would have used. Once, it is said, he made Bobnit Tivol run an uphill double marathon wearing an iron vest, twice in one day.

One has only to consider the records broken by Bobnit Tivol to recognise him for the superb sprinter he was. Leafing through old athletics almanacks, his name appears again and again and again, invariably in capital letters, annotated by one, two, or even three stars, at the top of every list. They say he had to rent a warehouse to store all his cups and shields and trophies. To think that he had won all the major Tyrolean sprinting events before he was twenty years old is to gasp in wonder.

Could he have succeeded without old Halob? They made a striking pair, the whippet-like runner with his mop of golden hair and the wheezing, elderly man, who smoked four packets of Black Ague rolling tobacco every day, dressed always in his Stalinist cardigan, a stopwatch in each pocket, leaning on a stick he claimed to have broken off the Tree of Heaven.

If I shut my eyes I see them still, my father and his mentor, Bobnit Tivol and old Halob, heroic figures from a past I have had to invent anew, for none of it is true.

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