Visualization for performance enhancement, however, is widely used by athletes and professionals. It is a psychological tool, not a banned substance. A high jumper used it in the presence of tens of thousands of spectators to achieve a stunning result in the Montreal Summer Olympics in 1976, just one year after I had immigrated to Canada from Bangladesh. Before he was to jump, the athlete closed his eyes and moved his head up and down, presumably picturing the steps he would be taking for a successful clearance. Following his pre-jump ritual, the jumper took eight or nine quick strides toward a touch-sensitive bar held between two vertical poles. A few feet from the bar, he planted one foot on the ground and lifted his body into the air, vertically, like a launched rocket. Then, at one critical juncture, while still air-borne, he bent his supple upper body into a horizontal position and cleared the bar, combining the acrobatic skill of a gymnast with the flexibility of a feline. Into a cavity created by his fall onto a thick padded mat, disappeared the athlete momentarily. The home-country spectators in the stadium exploded with thunderous cheers. The jumper soon sprang up and growled like a lean and mean Royal Bengal tiger, raising both hands and waving to the crowd. With his touch-less clearance, Greg Joy of Canada won a silver medal, out-jumping the then world record holder, Dwight Stones of USA. 'Joy' means victory in Bengali, as in 'Joy Bangla' (Victory to Bangladesh) slogan shouted by millions in Dhaka and Kolkata and elsewhere, five years earlier during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.
At the UC gym, I left the hurricane-strength floor fan running, while I was running. The Pacific Ocean might turn wild on marathon day, sending squalls across the Vancouver sea wall. I needed to practice in that condition. 'What if it rains that day?' I wondered. 'For that, I'll have to rely on my experiences in running through rain in Rio or the Mount Everest or the Inca Trail,' I answered. I felt assured that, in 29 marathons, I ran in almost every conceivable condition: under a scorching sun; through thunderous rains or blinding snow; on shoe-snatching mud; through a 4-km long dark, dripping tunnel; and through a drizzly dark night in the Himalayas. I stored those reinforcing thoughts in the memory bank for a rainy day on May 1st.
At one point, I felt warmer and wearier than normal. It was not that the room temperature had risen, or the speed or the incline of the treadmill had been increased. It was the Grand Canyon! The sun was blazing on the video screen. The canyon faces were brown and barren. 'Why a picture affected how I felt?' I wondered. I also recalled feeling cooler and stronger when, minutes earlier, I had been running eyeing a lush treed trail in another video. I looked at the wall mirror again. I forced a smile. I got a smile back. I felt stronger. 'Why a simple smile affected how I felt?' I wondered again. 'Psychologists are correct. Our mind is so gullible and hence so trainable,' I concurred. I stored those observations for May 1st.
I thought about the resiliency of the African-American female runner, Wilma Rudolph, who overcame polio-inflicted deformity in her leg to win three gold medals in the 1960 Tokyo Olympics. That thought brought strength to my tired legs. I visualized crossing the Vancouver finish line with a smile, and being awarded a finisher medal by a smiling volunteer.
After close to four hours on the treadmill, I reckoned that I had run 37 km. That was 5 km longer than my target for the day and merely 5 km shy of a full marathon. In view of the cardiac setback a year ago, it was a good performance. Resilience and visualization both played big parts in that performance.
I recalled another memorable performance by virtue of visualization and concentration by another Canadian runner in the final of the 100-m sprint in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. Standing in lane 6, the runner from Canada stared at the finish line, presumably running the race in his mind. He then got set in the starting block, looking like a torpedo ready to be fired from its launching pad. After three false starts and one disqualification, underscoring the tension in the air for getting a head start, the gun went off for the fourth time. Seven runners took off. At about 50 m, the runner on the sixth lane was trailing four runners to his left by a seemingly insurmountable margin. From there, it was a different picture and a different narrative altogether. The commentators were squealing his name. The TV monitor flashed 9.84 seconds. It was a new world record! The camera zoomed in on a runner with a shaved head, a wide-open mouth, and a pair of stunned eyes. That video clip of Donovan Bailey of Canada was replayed thousands of times all over the world, including Jamaica, from where he had emigrated.
That Sunday afternoon, I returned home feeling sprightly, following my small success in my game at the UC gym. In the game at the Eden Gardens, West Indies (includes players from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries) players were celebrating their thrilling victory in the T20 World Cup by scoring 24 runs from the first four balls in the very last six-ball over. Donovan Bailey must have dropped his jaw again, watching his countrymen's dazzling victory in Kolkata, 20 years after his own in Atlanta.
'Are you going to finish the US and Canada tax returns before we leave for Vancouver?' a Kolkata-accented voice threw in a veiled 'yorker' --- a difficult-to-bat cricket ball delivered right at the feet by a wily bowler. Four of which were sent flying over the boundary in the Eden Gardens for four sixes in a row by Carlos Brathwaite, the match-winning West Indies batsman. Ben Stokes, the devastated English bowler, squatted on the Eden Gardens' ground, wondering what he could have done better. Practicing visualization --- with or without prayer --- could have been one!r (The End)
Tapan Chakrabarty-a BUET chemical engineer with a PhD from the University of Waterloo, a seven-continent marathon finisher, an inventor, an innovator, and a columnist-writes from Calgary, Canada