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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 19:17 GMT 20:17 UK
Running the story
Tom Fordyce
By Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport at the Stade de France

"If not you, who? If not now, when?"

Fordyce catches his breath after trailing in second
It's not as easy as it looks...
So said Sir Steven Redgrave to himself as self-doubt assailed him moments before the final of the coxless fours at the Sydney Olympics.

It is an inspiring phrase, and one which was almost totally inappropriate for me to bring to mind as I prepared to take part in the media race at the World Championships.

It would soon transpire that there were two simple answers to Redgrave's question as far as I was concerned: "someone else" and "never".

The task ahead of me was simple: run 800m at the Stade de France quicker than a load of other journalists from around the world.

The competition was stiff. There were 166 men in the frame, some of them far too chiselled of cheek to be anything but ex-athletes.

When the first heat was won in 1min 57secs, it became clear that the "ex" referred in some cases to a period of no more than a few days.

We were given the honour of being allowed to get changed in the same rooms where the proper athletes do their thing and, after a brief nose around, I can report that the likes of Mo Greene have to use toilets with no seats and toilet paper of the shiny crunchy sort.

Like Greene and others of his professional ilk, some people were taking the whole thing very seriously indeed.

Laughable effort

On the warm-up track, a couple of French guys were midway through an elaborate - and somewhat painful-looking - stretching exercise.

BBC Radio Five Live's John Inverdale sought help from a higher authority, admitting to colleagues that he had borrowed a pair of shorts from Jonathan Edwards for the showdown.

Whether they worked wonders is hard to say. Either way, the words that Inverdale was using after finishing his heat were certainly not taken from any version of the Bible that I've ever seen.

Minutes later I stood on the track with the 15 other men in my own heat. Magically, another quote from a British Olympian sprang to mind, this time from Sally Gunnell.

"Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail."

The time is shown for all the stadium to admire
If I'd have just kicked a bit earlier it could have been different...
Not so much inspiration this time as a death-knell for my hopes. Unless the ideal preparation of an 800m is a succession of boozy weekends away with pals, I was in trouble.

The pressure was on in more ways than one. Two years ago in Edmonton I ran a similar media race and clocked 2mins 15secs - a laughable effort, but one which gave me a standard of sorts to keep up with.

It came as a much-needed boost to see that my nemesis on that occasion, a swarthy Bulgarian with unnecessary pace named Anton Bonov, had been drawn in a later heat.

Sadly, the damage that Bonov had done in 2001 was simply inflicted this time by Spain's Sergio Heredia, a man with the pace of a Porsche and the endurance of Kalahari bushman.

Super Serg set a blistering pace from the gun and was already giving his triumphant post-race interviews when I eventually crossed the line in second place.

On the plus side, I knocked four seconds off my only previous 800m time, a rate of progress that, if continued over the years, could see me close to the world record by 2018.

How's that for positive thinking, Mr Redgrave?

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