Author: Richard Buxton
Having retired earlier this year and moved to Sicily, I decided it was time to get myself into shape. Coming across European Masters Athletics somewhat by chance, I decided that since I was living in Italy it would be a great idea to motivate myself by signing up for the EMA Championships being held near Venice in September. So, I put myself down for the 4k cross country (a distance I thought I could manage to complete!), with the objective of trying to avoid coming last.
On arriving at the venue about an hour before the start of the event, I was greated enthusiastically by Stephen Smith and John Thompson, both were also competing in the M60 age group. They explained to me that the 4k cross country was a team event as well as an individual event and that three competitors were needed from a country in order to constitute a team. As there were exactly three of us, then we would have to be the GB&NI team. I explained that, sadly, I would not be of much help but Stephen and John remained optimistic. It seemed as if probably only 3 or possibly 4 countries were fielding enough competitors to form a team, that meant that we had at least a fighting chance of a bronze medal. The results would be determined by the cumulative times of the 3 competitors from each team, so Stephen and John stressed that “every second counts”. Based on estimated times, the Italian team looked very strong, with Spain potentially our main competitor.
Stephen and John both ran well, with Stephen taking fourth place (missing out on third by only 7 seconds) and John only 25 seconds behind in tenth. I ran as fast as I could, with John shouting encouragement as I entered the final 500 metres. In the end I finished 26th but with two of the three members of the Spanish team finishing behind me, a medal was guaranteed.
It turned out that the Germans had also managed to put together a team of three and, when the times were added up, it was the Germans who took third place ahead of the Spanish team in fourth. The GB&NI team were in the silver medal position, with the strong Italian team taking gold.
That afternoon, I found myself on a medal platform with Stephen and John and am the proud owner now of a silver medal. I still feel slightly guilty about winning a medal, as it was really down to Stephen and John who ran so fast that my own time was just about good enough, but those are the rules and I may never get such a good chance to win a medal in the future. I am really grateful to Stephen and John for their support. I couldn’t have hoped to meet two more friendly masters athletes. As a newcomer to masters athletics, I took a little time to watch some of the competitors in other events. I can only describe the whole experience as inspirational, particularly some of the older age groups performing feats that most people 20 years younger would not be able to manage. I can only hope that in 20 years time, I will still be participating.