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The Track and Field Record-Keeper

Many years ago, there was a man who wanted to be a track and field star. His heroes were the men and women who could run the sprints in record time, who could hurl the javelin and discus for tremendous distances, who could pole vault higher than anyone before them, and who could outlast their competitors in cross country events.

But instead of getting out on the track and joining the team as they went through the grueling work of disciplining their bodies, he preferred to record the triumphs of others. As a result, though he never fulfilled his dream of becoming and track and field star himself, he did gain a reputation for being the premier record-keeper in the entire sport.

He kept meticulous records, and could tell you the statistics of all the leaders in every event. His record-keeping included choosing the current heroes in the sport, the top performers in every category of track and field. His commentaries on each of these superstars eventually became the defining account of their athletic career, and when people wanted to know about a certain athlete, they turned to the record-keeper's summary. Gradually, he assembled a long list of clients who depended on his meticulous record-keeping.

His best accounts concerned Moses Smith in the two-mile, Jesus Jones in the pole-vault, Paul White in discus, Matthew Black in javelin, and Isaiah Green in the 100-yard dash. But there were many others, and he faithfully recorded them all in his record book.

One day something unforeseen happened. He filled the last page in his track and field bible. He stared at the filled page for a moment, noticed that there were no more pages on which to write, and slowly closed the book. He wrote a letter to all his clients informing them that there would be no more record-keeping. In the future, he informed them, he would write articles about the famous track and field stars of the past.

For a while, his clients enjoyed his retrospectives. But then they began to complain. "What about the new stars in the field. Why aren't you telling us about them?" His response was always the same: "The stars of the past are such towering figures that no one will ever surpass their records. Let's not overshadow their accomplishments with stories of lesser feats from ordinary people of today."

His focus on figures from the ancient days of track and field eventually turned them into cult figures whose exploits came to be worshipped. Their feats were inflated posthumously until they became so great that no one could ever challenge them. It didn't matter that many of those feats had never really happened, or that new stars were actually breaking the old records. The record-keeper resolutely refused to admit any new gods into his pantheon of track and field superstars.

In time, his clients recognized him for a fool. They turned to new record-keepers who were writing about the triumphs of new track and field stars as they continually appeared on the sports scene.

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2003