"Start to Finish"
By Terron James
“On your mark!”
I knelt down and placed my hands on the red track, then kicked my legs in turn behind me—like a donkey—to release their tension before placing my feet into the starting block. I lined my thumbs and fingers behind the white starting line, then waited.
As with a basketball player shooting free throws, every sprinter has a style—a traditional pattern they follow every time they are told to take their mark. Mine was fast and simple, then followed by smooth and deep breaths. I’ve never been a superstitious person. My underwear was clean, my body was free of jewelry and I didn’t wear sunglasses. The seven opponents to my right jumped around and jiggled their thighs, but I ignored them and focused on my hands—and waited.
I lifted my butt into the air and leaned back on my legs. It was the only thing we all did the same, although the location of our butts varied in height. I took one more deep breath, held the oxygen in my lungs and waited.
I sprang forward like a lion and chased my prey around the track. I loved lane 1, especially in the 400-meter. Starting in the back meant I could keep an eye on the other racers, pacing myself until the perfect moment to sprint ahead. Lanes 4 and 5 were usually occupied by the racers most favored to win, but that wasn’t the case when I stepped onto the track. While the sprinter in lane 8 led the rest of us around the first turn, I hid in the back and waited.
My family sat in the bleachers, hidden among thousands of other people. I knew they were watching as we ran down the back straightaway where the true contenders become apparent. One… two… three… four… five behind me, but I wasn’t worried about them. My attention was focused on lanes 4 and 5, where the two leading sprinters battled for first place. They were oblivious to me as I stayed a careful distance behind them—and waited.
Thirty seconds had passed and two hundred meters were behind us when we entered the second curve. Ever seen the movie Hildalgo? That’s me. A voice in my head whispered, “Let ‘er buck,” and I flew around the second curve. My parents watched me anxiously and waited.
When 400-meter sprinters reach the second and final straightaway, the staggering between them disappears. It is the first time anyone knows for certain who is in first place. The crowd erupted with excitement as I shot out in front of lanes 4 and 5 and led them down the track. I wanted to see the looks on their faces as I passed them, but I waited.
I was the first one across the finish line—my starting line. I shouted in triumph as I turned around to watch the other sprinters… and waited.