Banana binge puts Kluft in seventh heaven
Saturday August 12, 2006
The heptathlon is a unique discipline, the greatest test of all-round athletic ability available to womankind. The format, at least at the very highest level, is simple: over two days competitors push themselves through two sprint events - one over hurdles - they jump high and they jump long, they throw something heavy and round and something straight and pointy, and finally they run 800m. And at the end of it all, Carolina Kluft gets a medal.
The only thing more certain than a Kluft victory in major championships is that a traffic warden will appear in the 38 seconds it takes for you to jump out of the car, run into the dry cleaners, collect your shirts and run out again without appearing rude to the staff.
Kluft's latest celebrations were at the European Championships in Gothenburg this week, where despite not doing particularly well (by her standards) in any of the seven events she won with such ease that for Karin Rukstuhl, the Dutch runner-up, to have caught her in the final discipline, the 800m, she would have had to run over 20 seconds quicker than she eventually did, fast enough in fact to knock almost two seconds off the world record.
"It has been a bit of a struggle," lied Kluft after her victory had been secured, "especially when I woke up this morning and felt the body wasn't quite what I wanted it to be."
Carolina, welcome to my world. I can't remember a morning when I didn't wake up and feel a bit disappointed at the state of my body, though we seem to react to those feelings a little differently. I walk downstairs, tuck into my breakfast and slowly peruse the newspapers; she churns out world-class performances in the long jump, javelin and 800m.
At least I have generally had an excuse for my corporeal disillusion - eating too much of the wrong stuff, overindulging in alcohol, not doing enough exercise, that kind of thing. The best Kluft could come up with was an excess of bananas, although only by juxtaposing two of her statements can we discover quite how desperate her fructiferous problem is.
"You always learn something new and Kelly [Sotherton] taught me something during this competition about bananas," the smiling Swede said on Wednesday. "Kelly told me that bananas upset your stomach if you eat too many of them - and that's actually all I eat when I'm out there. I'll listen to that."
It is what she eats the rest of the time that's the problem, and Kluft had previously made the following revelation when asked by the BBC about her performance preparations. "The most important thing is that you're having fun," she said. "[During competitions] I spend time with my friends and family and I eat the foods that I normally would."
So this is what we know about Kluft's eating patterns: outside major events she eats exactly what she does during them, and during major events she only eats bananas. We can therefore conclude that her rise to sporting prominence has been fuelled by nothing but sub-tropical fruit. News of her unique diet should concern Dick Pound and his chums at the World Anti-Doping Agency, given that it exposes some double standards: having too much testosterone helps you win races, but you get banned; taking modafinil or tetrahydrogestrinone helps you win races, but you get banned; eating nothing but bananas helps you win races and is absolutely fine.
The only apparent side effect of the bananas is that Kluft has herself become a slightly curved object that is traditionally clad in yellow. But the amount of energy they give her became apparent in the moments after the 800m when, just as she should have collapsed to the floor, crippled by the stress and strains of the previous 48 hours, she instead set off on one of the more over-enthusiastic laps of honour I have ever witnessed. Her performance was incredible: not since Johnny Weissmuller cast away the Tarzan jockstrap has anyone bounced about with more simian enthusiasm. "The feeling during the victory lap was fantastic," she confessed later.
This isn't what we want from our sportsmen. We want them to give everything. We want their legs to buckle beneath them, their eyes to water and their stomachs to heave. It is understandable that a 100m runner has enough energy remaining for them to skip around a track smiling - how much effort can running a distance no greater than the average post office queue really take? - but after a gruelling two-day multi-disciplinary slog athletes should be led limping from the field straight to the first aid room, pausing perhaps to wave limply at their parents or vomit on their shoelaces. With her bananas, Kluft is making monkeys of us all.