Meeting a great athlete is most often a very humbling experience. Last week, the Dubai Sports Council called in to say that Nike’s ‘We Run’ movement would be announced in the UAE. Nothing exciting really in this, but my ears pricked up when the DSC official insisted there would be a “surprise” awaiting the media at the announcement.
And so I went along and, as it turned out, the surprise of the show was none other than two-time Olympic gold medallist Felix Sanchez.
A little more than three months back I was at London’s Olympic Stadium witnessing one of the most heart-warming moments in sports history — Sanchez crying during the entire medal-giving ceremony after he won gold in the 400m hurdles.
Later at the press conference, the double gold medallist from the tiny Dominican Republic simply told the media how “everything had come together” for him in London.
Winning gold at Athens 2004 had been a definitive high after dominating his event during the three preceding years. And then, during the heats in Beijing four years later, he received news of his grandmother’s demise, lost focus and did not even make it to the finals. It was then that Felix had promised a second gold medal for himself, along with a promise to his grandmother.
So this summer, when he had that medal around his neck, the 34-year-old Sanchez could not hold back his emotions and I am glad he did not — sports had got another great moment of an athlete being human.
On meeting him, one of my first questions was how life had changed for him. A bit jet-lagged after making the long trip from Los Angeles, Sanchez was earnest in his response. “Hopefully, nothing has changed for me,” he told me.
“I am the same person. I want to be the same person. My focus is on the future and I want to take things one year at a time,” he insisted.
Now anyone could have given such an answer for sure. But what struck me in him was the earnestness with which he expounded the words. He meant what he had just said. It was not banter or a run of the mill answer.
He was friendly and down to earth. Success had made him great, but he has not allowed the success to go to his head. Sports, to him, is just a vehicle to project his power as an athlete.
And when we finally said goodbye, he exclaimed: “I am glad we met again.”