The International Masters Games Association (IMGA) is a non-profit organization, recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which presents itself as the governing body for masters sports. Its mission is to promote sport for all based on the Olympic charter. The IMGA works with host cities to organize international multisport events starting at age 30. Say a kind of Olympic Games divided into age categories.
Tampere is hosting the fifth EMG this year from June 26 to July 9. There are 29 sports disciplines on the program. The city is about 175 kilometers north of Helsinki. My better half is Finnish, my 84-year-old father and his partner like to play golf and I like to participate in a cycling race! There are hardly better reasons to travel to the land of a thousand lakes: father of 84 and son of 64 on Olympic medal hunt!
On the cycling menu is a mountain bike ride, a criterium, and a road ride. MTB is not bacon for my mouth, so I registered for the criterium and road ride on July 1 and 2, respectively. At the time of registration, it was not very clear what that entailed. I was somewhat disconcerted when an initial posting revealed that the criterium for my age group would involve 20 laps of 1.4 kilometers and the road ride would involve 10 laps of 3.5 kilometers. If you are used to medio- and gran fondos, this requires a somewhat different approach.
The number of entries for cycling proved rather limited, however, so several age categories were merged, leaving two races per section: one for men 30 to 64 and one for ladies of all ages and men 65 and older. With my 64 years and three months, I am probably the oldest in the first mentioned category. For the criterium, this now meant thirty laps of 1.4 kilometers and for the road race twenty laps of 3.5 kilometers. In my group, there were about thirty participants for the criterium and 41 for the road race; my age group of 60-64 had five and six participants, respectively. With an Indian, an American, several Finns, and a Belgian in this category, the continents are fairly represented! The categories will start together, but there will be a ranking for each category.
The golf tournament goes on from July 7 to 9; so after my matches, I can devote myself fully to supporting my father and his partner, who are competing in the 65-plus category. In golf, that turns out to be the oldest category.
The criterium took place downtown close to the athletics stadium. It was twists and turns, as a criterium apparently requires: twice a bridge over the water per lap and several right-angle turns. So even after 40 kilometers, you can have a good time on such a course. Rain was predicted just at the time of the race; so it became a question of staying upright.
The course of the so-called road race was a pleasant surprise: half downhill and half uphill. The first bit uphill of about 400 meters at 8 to 10% can already cut the legs off immediately. Then it goes challengingly to the highest point. Don't go over your head, seemed to be the message here. After ten laps you feel this well and then there are ten more to go.
After 8 a.m., according to the information booklet, you could pick up your race number and time registration chip at the "race office." Where exactly that was didn't seem very clear to most and at 8:00 the message was to come back in half an hour. I suddenly felt like I was back in Sicily.... So the weather had indeed turned; putting on rain gear was the message.
The warm-up took place in a covered parking lot. It was raining cats and dogs. On the road surface you could see the traces of oil here and there. Long live the disc brakes; with rim brakes I would have found this very unpleasant. Even with disc brakes, my cornering technique as the oldest of the pack proved no match for the younger force. My cheat sheet with back numbers of my opponents in the 60-64 age group taught me that those who rode away from me were younger. After a few laps, I had two companions (also younger) with whom I finished the laps as quickly as possible.
At regular intervals, a number popped up in front of me that I had to keep an eye on; it meant that I could sew up all my direct opponents by at least a lap. It has to be said that in the meantime, the younger force also rushed past me several times. With my wife and a friendly Finnish couple, I had three fervent supporters. So it was a blast, until you ran into those who had gone through a curve too fast and were crawling back up with their limbs damaged. With some caution, then, onward to the sweet taste of victory!
I was the only non-Finnie to succeed in winning an age category. By the way, our podium was nicely colored internationally with a Finn and an American next to me. The husband of the befriended couple (himself a former marathon runner) asked my wife if I had suffered some trauma or frustration somewhere, since at my age I still compete in this kind of condition. He probably has a point: the pent-up anger toward the epo-generation that has kept me off the bike for years.
After a thorough shower of bike and rider, a nice spaghetti and a bad night's sleep, I was able to get ready for the road ride. The plotted course in the Pyynikki nature reserve was challenging. It wasn't supposed to rain... So that turned out to be a wrong prediction. Our labrador would have fiercely resisted taking even one step outside in this weather. On the steeper part of the trail, we had to keep left to avoid running into a constantly flowing body of water.
At the warm-up, two new faces popped up in my age group. Their calves and thighs hinted that a secondvictory was not easily forthcoming. That was soon apparent. The 61-year-old Janne Hämäläinen took off in the second round with a Spaniard almost 30 years younger and doubled the rest of the competitors. It was impressive to see the two of them flame past, while I was pulling out all the stops with the same two companions as the day before just to make a good figure.
About halfway through, the second Finn who wasn't there the day before caught up with me, Joukko. He turned out to be a teammate of one of my companions and was kind enough to take us in tow. We had a pleasant chat along the way: we are both going to the World Cup in Scotland in early August. After a few laps, I could no longer handle his pace and it was a good 10 kilometers of suffering in the rain and cold, with my old "friend" cramps lurking around the corner. During the last climb I had to pay and it was very painful until the finish. There was still a nice third place and bronze for me.
The fight with the natural elements and myself provided a nice memory and if I can get over my trauma and frustration with that, then I am probably doing well.... For the fans: next year there are Pan-American Games in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
My dad is going to give me some golf lessons now!