The Asian Cup of rogue nations

afc-asian-cup-1420749072-2318216It struck me – with the force of a Tim Cahill wonder strike – that there was something decidedly wrong with the 2015 Asian Cup.

North Korea. Iran. Saudi Arabia. All run by brutal dictatorial regimes, all with appalling human rights records, but allowed to compete in an international sporting event.

Has the world gone mad? Have we lost our moral compass?

I ask from the perspective of a South African who remembers our isolation from world sport, forced to live off a diet of local competitions and the occasional ‘rebel’ cricket or rugby side visit.

Of course, it was quite right that we were banned, given our cruel apartheid policies, though there were some who argued that sport and politics should be kept separate and that we shouldn’t punish individuals, many of whom opposed the government’s policy of separation, from competing internationally.

Certainly, there were many great South African sportsmen and women denied their opportunity on the world stage, barred from competing at  Olympic and Commonwealth Games and from cricket, rugby and soccer world cups.

We had a world-beating cricket team in 1970 (thrashing Australia 4-0 at home) before we were kicked out of world sport, champion rugby and soccer players, swimmers and athletes.

But, I got a real shock when I saw North Korea arrive in Australia to take part in the tournament, a ridiculous charade, given they refused to give media conferences or engage with the public and thankfully were bundled out in the group stages. Clearly instructions came straight from mad dictator Kim Jong-un and his henchmen on how to behave in a foreign country, a rare treat for the lucky few who were able to travel outside of their home country. The rest stay home and starve.

Iran’s another shocker. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is a jihadist theocracy that has dragged Iran into economic depression while executing, imprisoning and intimidating its domestic opponents” wrote the Sydney Morning Herald’s Paul Sheehan recently. Iran is more dangerous than the Islamic State, he added.

Iran’s people are beaten, imprisoned, tortured…but its team is allowed to compete in the Asian Cup. Even the players over here play with fear in their hearts: during the tournament players were warned not to be photographed with young female fans.

As for Saudi Arabia, being a Jew I wouldn’t be allowed into the country (not that I have any plans to visit). Saudi Arabia is by all reports a brutal, repressive place, with medieval laws. The penalty for homosexuality is death. The penalty for blasphemy is death.  Commit adultery and the punishment is to be stoned to death. Steal and you lose a hand. State your opinion in a blog and you get flogged.

So, I ask again, has the world lost its moral compass?

Do we now turn a blind eye now to every human rights violation in the name of sport and entertainment?

Or have we finally decided that sport and politics should not mix. If so, a lot of South African sportsmen and women deserve an apology.

Federer, Nadal, Becker and Curren: remembering my tennis moments

tennis-ballsIt wasn’t the classic match I’d been hoping for, but it was still a thrill to sit under the lights at Rod Laver arena and watch two of the modern-day greats, Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal, duel it out for a place in the Australian Open final.

Nadal was too aggressive , Federer made too many errors at the net with only the occasional glimpses of his sublime ground strokes, and it was all over in straight sets.

As I sat in the arena with Danni Minogue behind me, Pete Sampras chatting away in the distance (and never applauding a single point) and the great man, Rod Laver himself, watching intently with his distinctive mop of red hair and pointy nose, I thought about my own relationship with tennis and the role it’s played in my life.

Growing up in Germiston, a mining town about 30 minutes east of Johannesburg, we lived across the road from a Catholic convent and next door to the school’s tennis court. The nuns graciously gave us a set of keys and it was quite a novelty to have friends over and then head down to the courts to hit the ball around.  The court’s were cracked and the nets frayed and we frequently lost balls into the neighbouring homes, but it was our own private tennis club.

I was never much of a player, occasionally I’d string a couple of good shots together and fluke a serve down the line, but I’d have been a lower grade club player at best if I’d had lessons and practiced. Still, there probably wasn’t a family holiday, where we didn’t take our rackets and have a game. I recall being rather competitive and not averse to smashing my racket against the ground and not always the best loser.

More so though, my relationship with tennis revolved around the four majors – the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, which seemed to define the calendar year and the seasons.

South Africa might have been isolated from the world in the mid-1980s, but every game was shown on SABC (the South African Broadcasting Corporation) with our legendary doubles champion Bob Hewitt waxing on in English about this shot and that and someone else providing the alternate Afrikaans commentary.

The French Open and Wimbledon were always my favourites – the former played on those bright red clay courts, with smartly dressed men and sexy, haughty European women in sunglasses watching from the stands (expertly picked out by the cameramen) while the umpire called the points in French.

They was probably the only words in French I knew:

“Zero – quarante” (Love – 40)

“Jeu” (Game”)

“Quarante – trente” (40-30)

And my favourite, the oh so very sophisticated:

“Egalite” (Deuce)

I loved all the sliding across the red clay, the ability to see exactly where the ball landed in the court when a dispute was called and the long baseline rallies by the likes of Mats Wilander, Sergi Bruguera, Thomas Muster and the tiny, plucky Michael Chang and his famous win over Stefan Edberg in 1989 (where I seem to remember a point he served underhand).

But Wimbledon holds the strongest memories for me.

It was always played in the middle of winter in South Africa, crisp, days when the afternoon sun streamed in through the sliding doors of the living room and always while I was studying for mid-year exams. I remember I’d structure my study time  – 40 minutes at my desk, then 20 minutes of tennis, which soon turned into 30 minutes and sometimes until my mother called the family over for dinner.

The men’s final evokes strong memories of family gatherings. Uncles and aunts and cousins would arrive for tea, cake and biscuits and then we’d all retire to the family room to watch the final. My father would invariably fall asleep (I have photographic evidence somewhere) but wake up in time for the trophy presentation by Duke of Edinburgh.

One year was particularly special – 1985. I was 12 years old and a South African had made it all the way to the final. His name was Kevin Curren. He was tall, awkward looking, softly spoken guy who blitzed the likes of McEnroe and Connors with an endless stream of aces and unplayable serves to power his way into the final against an unknown, unseeded 17-year-old German “wunderkid” called Boris Becker.

This was in the deep, dark days of apartheid isolation with only the likes of Gary Player and a few other individual sportsman able to still represent our country on the global stage.

The nation held its breath that day as we prayed that our new sporting idol, Kevin Curren, would play one more storming match and give us our first Grand Slam champ since Johan Kriek won the Australian Open in the late 1970s.

Sadly it was not to be. The fresh-faced, precious talent that was Boris Becker leaped onto the world stage on the hallowed grass of Wimbledon and tennis was changed for ever. It was upsetting to see our hero lose, but the truth is I became an enormous fan of Boris Becker with all his theatrical dives at the net and that powerful, trigger serve of his.

In the subsequent years, I remember the three Wimbledon Finals between the raging, tear away Boom Boom Becker and the cool elegant Swede, Stephen Edberg between 1988 and 1990 as among the most thrilling of my young adult life.

Later, while living in London, I was lucky enough to attend Wimbledon a couple of times, taking the train after work, queueing up for five-pound tickets and wander around the famous courts, indulging in some rather disappointing strawberries and cream and sitting on what was then called “Henman Hill” (now called Murray Mound) in the long summer days.

In 2004, I slept over at a mate’s house in Croydon  and we awoke at 4am to queue early for tickets for one of the show courts.

We got to watch a young very attractive talent by the name of Maria Sharapova on her way to her first Grand Slam, but the highlight was watching the panther like Roger Federer on his way to his second of seven Wimbledon Crowns.

And this week I got to see him again  in the twilight of perhaps the greatest of tennis careers.

To inappropriately quote Eric Clapton and Cream: Anyone for tennis, wouldn’t that be nice?

Giddee up: why horse racing is an absurd sport

Horse (8)I rarely gamble. Not because I am puritanical about it, but because I never win. I figure I’m better off burning the bank notes in my wallet for warmth than taking a punt.

On Tuesday, on Melbourne Cup Day I won $5 in the office sweepstakes. The horse I picked up was Verema. That horse is dead. It was put down after breaking a bone in her leg in the race. Not quite sure why I won $5, but it was out of sympathy I think and I shall donate the money to some animal charity in return.

I took the incident to be a kind of omen – about betting mainly – but it also made me think about horse racing and what an utterly absurd sport it is.

Mainly, it’s the idea that horses are somehow willing competitors and participants in these so-called carnivals.

Michael Lynch, a sports writer at The Age, writes in a column that the death of Verema was “sad” but not a “tragedy”.

A tragedy, he said, would be if a jockey were to die as happened in Darwin recently.

Horse racing, he says like all sports come with risks, somehow suggesting that these horses have agreed (perhaps they signed a contract with their hoof?) to take on these risks.

He writes:

“But the reality is that in any sport or recreational pursuit involving horses (or livestock of any kind) there will be casualties.It’s part of the risk inherent in such activity.”

He then goes on to attack those people who will use the example of the death of Verema to accuse the sport of being barbaric, when in fact very few horses die – one out of every 2000. He writes:

“For those who won’t ever approve, one is too many.For those of us who love racing, it is a sad statistic, but one that will be judged acceptable on a risk-to-return basis.”

I am sure his statistics are accurate. He is of course entitled to his opinion, but I found it heartless and in poor taste, and what really annoyed me was this line:

“Verema was a horse that gave her all.”

The notion that the horse had any idea that it was racing and trying to win.

Michael, Do you really think the horse cared whether it came first, second or last?

It makes me think of a classic Jerry Seinfeld joke about horse racing where he muses about whether horses, after the race, walk back to the stables saying: “I was fifth, while I was third…” and why if the whole idea was just to finish at the point they began, could they not have just remained where they were!

Take a listen:

To be fair, Michael Lynch is not alone. Commentator after commentator will talk about horses as if they were consciously involved in the sport. They talk of horses that “race solidly”, that “never let go” that “bolt ahead” as if these animals are cognizant beings, able to make judgements and decisions, to strategize and plot, when really its all about the little man on their backs manipulating them.

Horse racing is not grand. It’s not a spectacle. It’s quite silly and boring. It’s why people get blind drunk on cup day and frequently dress up in silly outfits.

Sometimes it can be cruel. And I doubt it’s ever all that much fun for the horse.

The demise of Australian sporting prowess…or how they went from champs to chumps

france v australiaJust what has happened to Australia’s sporting prowess?

Over the weekend, the Soccerros lost 6-0 to France to accumulate a 12-0 scoreline when you tally the previous result against Brazil.

It’s been 11 years since the Wallabies last won the Bledisloe Cup and 14 years since they last won the World Cup.

The cricket team has lost three Ashes series in a row, it lost 4-0 to India earlier this year and before that lost a test series at home to South Africa.

The Olympic team won just 8 gold medals in London, its worst haul since 1988 and half the number of golds they won at Beijing.

Once a tennis powerhouse, Australia has only just returned to the David Cup world group after a six year hiatus.

Blimey, even the last two horses to win the Melbourne Cup were trained in France.

Compare this two twenty years ago.

As a once-mad South African cricket and rugby supporter, a sense of dread would come over me every time our national team played the Wallabies or the Baggy Greens throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Let’s play anyone but the Australians was my motto.

Because Australia was so damn good at cricket and rugby and just about any other sport you could think of.

It was not just they’re sporting skill and dexterity, it was a mental toughness they possessed (typified none more so than by the likes of Steve Waugh or John Eales), a do-or-die attitude that left one of the most painful of sporting moments indelibly tattooed on my brain: tieing the 1999 Cricket World Cup semi-final, a game we could not, it seemed, lose, yet somehow managed to do so (I recall celebrating victory only for it to be snatched away so cruelly by lunacy).

Tough as nails, the fiercest of competitors: Steve waugh

Tough as nails, the fiercest of competitors: Steve waugh

Beating Australia meant you had to play at your very best and when you did beat them, it almost always felt like a remarkable achievement, one where you matched both their physical abilities and were stronger mentally.

Now you can do it hardly even trying it seems.

What exactly has happened to this once proud sporting nation? Is it just going through a very bad downward patch or has their being a seismic shift in the world order?

Certainly the Socceroos were not expected to win their games against football powerhouses like France and Brazil, but they were expected to at least put up a good fight.What happened to the team that eight years ago pushed Italy all the way for a quarter-final spot at the 2006 World Cup?

The slide in rugby and cricket has been even worse, these being sports where Australia dominated on the world stage. Yes, teams go up and down, but the fall from grace has been spectacular to the say the least.

But it goes beyond results.

Just how many major sporting scandals have made the front pages of newspapers recently? I’ve lost count. It seems there’s hardly a national sport that has not been tainted lately by something or other.

There’s been the AFL and NRL doping scandals, the numerous punch-ups and bust ups in the cricket team, the bad behaviour among rugby players (James O’Connor, Kurtley Beale). Christ, even sports you’d never associate with anything remotely scurrilous have had their share of public image failures most notably the men’s swimming team, and the sleeping pill scandal. (Not to mention their complete failure to win a gold medal at the Olympics) and the recent admissions by cycling great, Stuart O’Grady that he was a drug’s cheat.

Of course I should mention there have been some exceptions: Australian golf is very strong led by Master’s champion Adam Scott and regular major challenger Jason Day plus a string of other players capable of winning big tournaments. Sam Stosur won the US Open a few years back and Australia continues to dominate at surfing and ahem…netball.

Apart from netball though, these are all individual sports and, they seem to be more the exception then the rule.

It appears that Australian sports teams have been out-psyched or perhaps they’ve out-psyched themselves, believing they’re better at losing than winning. Perhaps the endless succession of scandals can be read as a desperate attempt for them to get back to winning ways.

This is also typified in the apparent necessity to spend millions of dollars appointing overseas coaches to national teams. We’ve had a New Zealander (Robbie Deans) coach the Wallabies, a succession of foreign nationals coach the Socceroos, and a South African (Mickey Arthur) coach the cricket team with varying degrees of success. This speaks volumes about confidence and a lack of belief in the talent of local coaches and managers.

And once again, having sacked German coach Holger Osieck, the Socceroos have considered trying to literally turn back the clock and re-appoint Gus Hiddink, the Dutchman who guided them to the fourth round at the World Cup in 2006. It seems some sensibility has returned with Melbourne Victory coach Ange Postercoglou (Australian despite the exotic sounding name) set to take on the role.

All these teams will no doubt bounce back.

But the days of Australia as a sporting powerhouse, punching way above its weight and utterly dominating their rivals, appear to be over.

Sorry ladies, cricket remains still (sadly) a true gentlemen’s game

empty cricket standsThis morning, over coffee in a cafe outside Flinders Station they were showing the recent cricket World Cup Final between Australia and the West Indies.

I should clarify. It was the Women’s world cup final, which took place in Mumbai a city with a population of around 20 million and millions of cricket-mad fans – I know because when I visited a couple of years ago and told people I was a South African living in Australia, people would shout out the names of cricket players they idolised at me:

“Jonty Rhodes. Great fielder.”

“Herschelle Gibbs. I love Gibbs”

“Riiiicky Ponting”

But sipping my coffee and watching highlights of the game I noticed one glaringly obvious thing.

The stands were almost completely empty. Rows and rows of empty seats in a the Brabourne Stadium, one of India’s smallest cricket stadiums that only holds 20,000 people.

No one was watching the game in Mumbai and no one appeared to care.

According to one report I read, there were at most 1,000 people at the game with police officers outnumbering spectators by two to one.

This in one of India’s biggest cities, in a country that’s apparently cricket mad.

Just yesterday I’d read a story in The Age by sports writer Peter Hanlon suggesting that women’s cricket had come of age and they were now viewed as true professionals.

It had as its headline: “Sitting up and taking notice of women’s cricket”

Hanlon wrote of the game being broadcast live on Foxtel with ball-by-ball commentary on BBC radio.

But I doubt if apart from the family and friends of the Australian and West Indies cricket teams and a small collective of women who play the game, if anyone listened of watched as Australia raced to a comprehensive win.

They say cricket is the ‘gentlemen’s game’ and generally mean in the sense that you should play it in the spirit of fairness and good cheer. But it has a far more literal meaning.

As for this apparent rise in the profile of the women’s version of the gentleman’s’ game, it’s a theory that sails way over the stumps.

Mixed emotions surely for Mickey Arthur as Australia lose to South Africa

Mickey Arthur with JP Duminy

Mickey Arthur, photographed when coach of South Africa in 2009.

I cannot help but wonder how Australian coach Mickey Arthur felt after South Africa beat Australia in the final test match to lose the series and their shot at toppling the South Africans as the No. 1 ranked test side in world cricket.

Arthur of course is a South African and about as South African as they come. He’s a ‘Vaalie’ – born on the highlands of the old Transvaal – and played all his provincial cricket in South Africa for the Free State and Griqualand West.

He was appointed coach of the South African team in 2005 and the last time he visited Australia (in a professional sense) just four years ago he coached them to arguably their greatest ever test series win – and their first ever series victory against Australia – since being re-admitted into world cricket in 1991.

Having fallen out with the South African cricket authorities in 2010, he coached Western Australia for a season and was then appointed Australia’s first foreign-born coach in November last year.

Now I am not for one moment suggesting that Arthur is not a thorough professional and has not given it his all as Australian coach – and let’s be honest they  outplayed South Africa in the first two tests and could easily have been No.1 in the world at the end of this series had it not been for FaF Du Plessis’s heroics in the second test – but I find it hard to imagine that Mickey Arthur did not take some pleasure in watching his old team and the players he coached just a few season ago win against the odds against the country of his birth’s greatest sporting rivals.

I have lived in Australia for over eight years, my daughter is Australian and my wife holds and Australian passport and yet I cannot bring myself to support the Australian cricket team or the Wallabies.

In fact I am sure they will put on my grave one day – “He died a Bok fan.”

You see the thing is this, when you grow up in South Africa, beating Australia in any sport (even lawn bowls and darts) is considered the ultimate victory.

Rivalries run very deep between the two sporting nations, and not least because there is a great deal of respect for Australia’s sporting prowess.

South Africans consider Australia one of the great sporting nations – especially when it comes to cricket – and while we have managed to beat all the other teams on a regular basis, beating the Baggy Greens has been tough – this win is only our second ever Test series triumph since re-admission.11187061_24c0790592

I found these two comments on the Supersport website (the equivalent of Fox Sports in South Africa) at the bottom of a story about the latest series win:

“South Africa clobbered Australia. It was so easy, it was scary!”

“Amazing always good to thrash the ozzies.”

Personally, I remember waking up in the early hours of the morning or watching through the night games played against Australia through the 1990s – mostly on the losing side, occasionally a much-savoured win.

The truth is being a South African cricket fan is being the ultimate sporting tragic.

A lot of times it’s been an exercise in heartache – primarily when it comes to World Cups, when we have conjured up defeats from the jaws of victory, and must live with the scars of the 1999 World Cup semi-final tie that will go down as the greatest choke in our rich sporting history, plus the sad saga of Hansie Cronje.

There are many South African expats living in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne who say they support the Australian cricket team and the Wallabies, but I have yet to meet any that I believed with any conviction.

Equally there are South Africans who have lived here many decades who still support the Proteas and Springboks and that I suspect will be me too.

It’s not that I have some deep-seated animosity to the Baggy Greens or the Wallabies, it’s just in my blood.

And it’s also surely in the blood of Mickey Arthur – who is more South African than me.

And though he will surely deny it, I am sure he did take some pleasure out of watching the team he coached to their greatest win four years ago win again this week.

After all, he’s only human!

(And the same I am sure can be said for Robbie Deans, New Zealand-born and raised coach of the Wallabies).

From city 2 sea: A different kind of Melbourne racing carnival

The alarm goes off at 6am on a chilly Sunday morning.

Giddy up!

Today I’m running the City2Sea, a 14 kilometre charity run through the streets of Melbourne, starting in the CBD and ending at St Kilda Beach.

For the last two months, I’ve been getting up at the ungodly, still-dark hour of 5.30am to train before work – and I feel ready.

A quick nappy change (the baby’s, not mine), a small bowl of muesli , a kiss goodbye to the sleepy wife and I’m off, driving along Oak Park’s quiet suburban streets on my way into the city.

The radio says it is 9 degrees celsius  (in November!) and I have the heater cranked up in the car.

It’s a even colder in the city where I park, munch half a banana, and set off up Flinders Street for the start line just off St Kilda Road.

Runners emerge from everywhere, with their race numbers pinned to their shirts, they’re easy to spot. Also on the streets, late night/early morning revellers outside 7-Elevens and the homeless. A man outside Flinders Station asks me for change and I literally don’t have any. Just a bank note stuffed into my sock for a bite to eat after the race.

I meet up with my friend Jonny outside the colossal, fortress-like grey walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and we jokingly discuss strategies for elbowing people out the way at the congested start line.

The vibe is great, surrounded by fellow Melburnians of all ages, shapes and creeds chatting away, stretching, waiting to test themselves.

Music belts out and a loudspeaker barks out instructions and bits of motivation. Later the same voice tells us repeatedly to “get into our pens”. Since when did we become farm animals?

Today is also Remembrance Day and we listen to a short address about the bravery of Australian troops in the war and listen to the bugle poignantly play “The last post”.

The sky is clear and the air crisp as we stand in silence and listen to the sorrowful tune.

Afterwards, as we wait for the start gun, Jonny fumes at all the runners with their ipods strapped to their arms and plugged into their ears.

He was under the impression these devices were banned.

“I might have to steal someone’s headphones,” he chirps, clearly not impressed.

A lady in front of me has two ipods, one strapped on each arm. Is she using them as weights I wonder or planning to teleconference while running?

Someone is lined up in their tuxedo. Another as a super-hero with red cape (not superman, they’re advertising a gym or slimming plan I think).

The gun goes off and we’re off, racing under a canopy of trees down St Kilda Road past some of Melbourne’s most expensive apartments blocks shimmering in glass and metal and old Victorian and Edwardian heritage buildings transformed into royal societies and restaurants.

People jostle past. Apologies are muttered. A woman runs past me actually holding hand weights in her hands.

A man on a Sunday stroll with his dogs asks a race official how he gets across the road.

“When you see  gap.”

We pass the grey stone bricks of the Victorian army barracks, where a rock band all dressed in naval white is pumping out tunes and people cheer at us from the pavement.

At the base of one of the apartment blocks, in a cafe, a bald guy with a newspaper is having breakfast, oblivous, it seems, to the sea of joggers flying past.

The “1km” sign looms up in no time and I start thinking – “this will be a breeze!”

Some people are walking already and I wonder – just how much training have they done?

Already I’m thinking my next race should be a 21 kilometre half-marathon.

A few kilometres later – I’m managing about six minutes a km – and we’re in Albert Park, where they hold the Australian Grand Prix in January.

The sun is blazing, it’s a gorgeous clear blue sunny day and Melbourne’s impressive “Manhattan” shimmers in the distance. The city looks majestic from my point of view and I feel grateful to be fit, to be running and to be a small part of this metropolis.

But there’s absolutely no shade and as I slow down for a cup of water, I’m thinking pehaps 14 kilometres is more than enough after all!

A black swan has waddled across from Lake Albert and is calmly eating grass at the side of the road. A bad omen? Don’t these things chase and bite?

A woman runs past in the opposite direction. Perhap’s she’s finished already and doing the race backwards.

An elderly man next to me is doing a kind of half run/half walk, dragging his legs forward and moaning with each breath. I’m worried he might not make it (and not just to the finish line).

We pass the main Grand Prix grandstand and I look up at my reflection in the glass. Never mind the man with the funny running style, it looks like I’m hardly moving at all or possibly going backwards.

The heat, the heat.

This course may be as flat as a pancake, but there’s absolutely no shade. I look for tall, wide joggers.

I see what I think its the first ambulance at the 9 kilometre mark and assume the odds favour heart-attacks well into these races. Indeed the frequency of first-aid care picks up from here on in. God help you if you collapse at the 2 km mark, you’re finished!

The “Village People” are playing in front of a tent promising to cool you down with water sprays and I detour in, but the misty stuff hardly penetrates, taking seconds off my time, which has now stretched beyond the six minute per kilometre mark.


A few minutes later I’m forced to slow down again for a glass of gatorade. Everyone crowds in grabbing for a cup.

Have you ever tried drinking gatorade while running? Luckily I remember it’s gatorade and don’t throw it across my face as I did with a cup of water earlier.

We exit the park and head down Fitzroy Street, St Kilda with its cafes and restaurants and art deco apartments. Three guys on a balcony are drinking beers and waving at us. Bastards!

A little further along a couple of down-and-outs are gathered together with cheap grog, sitting on the kerb shouting out words of encouragement:

“$20 for a blow-job,” shouts out one with a leathery, unwashed face, clearly not fazed by the presence of three uniformed police officers watching from across the street.

“They’re not doing any harm,” I hear a guy tell the cops, who are clearly not impressed.

Not sure the mothers and daughters running behind me will appreciate these words of encouragement either.

I’m just glad for something to divert my thoughts.

“$20 for a blow-job,” he repeats again and again until I am out of earshot.

The 12 km sign appears.

And then it’s a left turn down the esplanade with the beach on my right and beyond it the calm blue waters of Port Phillip Bay. A guy paddles serenely by standing on a paddle ski. Cyclists ring their bells and whizz past on the track alongside the road.

Two “smurfs” run past me.

And then a man in a sequined purple dress and wig.

People holding babies and dogs on leads wave and shout out words of encouragement.

A lady smiles at me: “You’re doing well” she says and I think: I must look pretty bad.

The man I thought might have a heart attack at the half-way stage surges past me and out of sight, still moaning. Bastard!

And then the finish line looms. I pick up speed and cruise over the line in an hour and 27 minutes. Not too shabby.

I grab a medal and thrust it over my head. To the finisher, the spoils.

We ditch the free yoghurt on offer and hobble off to Acland Street for well-earned full English breakfast with all the trimmings.