With our all-information-all-the-time instant-judgement society, there is a habit if constantly branding events and performances as The Best <insert something> Ever, or Worst <insert something> Ever. We’re always making Top 10 lists and Top 100 lists for movies, and songs, and tv episodes, and athletes, and so on… I think that can often make for spirited discussion, well, at least until the trolls get involved.
I was thinking along these lines this past week and realized that this weekend is the 40th anniversary of what I think of as the single, greatest athletic performance that I have ever witnessed: Secretariat’s win in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
Maybe that seems like an odd choice for someone that watched Hank Aaron, The Miracle on Ice, Kirk Gibson, and a host of other jaw-dropping performances. Even though I was a little tyke at the time, I can still remember watching it on my knees in front of my parents’ tv.
Since the dawn of the YouTube era, I watch it now, probably a couple of times a year and I am still amazed. And I still get choked up. Every. Time. I know many of you that visit here probably weren’t alive in 1973 and may barely recognize the name of the horse or the event. Whether you do or don’t remember, take a moment and watch the race:
That day, Secretariat set the record for a mile and half on dirt that still stands today. Around the half-way point, he starts to pull away from Sham and that’s it. He just keeps pulling away. And to me, the thing that is most fascinating is wondering what his motivation could have been. He won by an absurd 31 lengths, nearly the length of a football field. No one was near him. He was so far ahead, but he never seemed to ease up. I like to think he was running for the sake of it.
So, with the Belmont this weekend, I salute Big Red — the best athletic performance I ever saw. I suppose that in the coming years something wondrous could happen to displace it, but whoever that might be has an awful lot of ground to make up.