In her new book 16 Jours à Pékin (16 days in Beijing), Chantal Petitclerc describes one of the most heartwarming scenes of sportsmanship that I have ever heard of. Read on about it, and post a comment about the importance sportsmanship.
Chantal Petitclerc had just won her first of five gold medals at the 2008 Paralympics in China, and the post-race routine was becoming nearly as draining as the race itself. There had been the victory lap, the interviews, the drug testing, the medal ceremony, the 30-minute cool down, and then clearing stringent security points as she made her way out from the stadium. It was after 10 pm. She was thinking about food as she entered the athlete’s village, but was greeted by a completely different kind of nourishment.
It was the entire Chinese paralympic athletics team in one long, formal row. They had been waiting 30 minutes for her, and on their coach’s signal, they all broke into prolonged applause. When the clapping was done, it was an exchange of handshakes.
The same rivals who dared not look at each other in the days and hours leading up to the final were, for this moment, joined as one.
Petitclerc had won the 100 metre race at the expense of the Chinese. Their team had taken second and third places in front of their home crowd, just fractions of a second behind her. There were still races ahead. And yet, there they were, saluting her.
“It was magic and that moment will be etched on my heart for ever,” writes Petitclerc in 16 Jours à Pékin. “It was the kind of moment you get in a Hollywood tear jerker. You can’t help but say ‘wow’. But when it happens in real life, it’s even better…I’ll never forget the generosity that team showed me.”
Petitclerc’s book is peppered with anecdotes and insights that should delight most readers, even those with little interest in sports and competition. Her back story – the near total domination of wheelchair athletics since 1996 – is already well known. Until now, however, we didn’t know much about the details of what happens as she prepares and takes part in races. Even I – who has interviewed and spoken to Chantal on countless occasions – was learning something new on every page.
I didn’t know that:
-Chinese equipment modifications made their starts much faster than Peticlerc’s.
-she constantly measures her speed with a speedometer throughout a race.
-she was unsure of herself, despite past success.
-she dreads having to race in rainy weather
-she had complete and total trust in her coach Peter.
-she spoke to her psychologist by Skype regularly in Beijing.
-she sets goals for every race that are not limited to winning.
The book chronicles Petitclerc’s journey, day-by-day, in Beijing. She writes at greatest length about the 100-meter race because it was the most challenging, and it was the first one. Her dream of five gold medals hinged on it.
The book is only out in French at the moment, but it certainly deserves to find an English publisher.