Last week, my classmates and I were invited to participate in the Ligong Daxue Yundong Hui, which was a track competition in Huangdao for the college students. As the small foreign contingent in the school, we were expected to participate in some of the track meets. My Russian friends graciously signed me up for at least six races, but I opted for a more moderate approach and chose the 4x100m relay and 5000m race.
Thursday morning, we went to the soccer stadium for the opening ceremony. For once, the stands were filled with students, some who wanted to be there and others who were required to be there. Regardless, there were probably several thousand people that came to watch the competition. Before the track meet began, each department division had a select group of students that marched around the track with matching track suits and a banner. Once they all had completed the circuit, they lined up on the soccer field, covering 2/3 of it. Then one of the deans or possibly a school president made several introductory remarks and welcomed us to the school. After his speech, several hundred students lined up on the soccer field and performed some type of synchronized calisthenics routine. While it was impressive, I’m glad we didn’t have to mimic their routine because it would have become a laughable show.
As we waited for our race, we watched several rounds of 100m races from our front-row seats. My friend and I heartily yelled “Jai You” to propel the contestants to victory. We also bet on each other’s lunches for who would win each race. I think, towards the end, we essentially cancelled each other out, but it was still fun to do. During the initial races, several groups of cheerleaders were performing dance routines. Some were dressed in flashy golden outfits, others had the stereotypical matching top and mini skirt, and others seemed to have borrowed uniforms from the guys’ basketball team. Not much continuity among them, but plenty of variety.
Several minutes before the race, my friends and I practiced passing an imaginary baton and then watched the girls run the 4x100m relay. I was the first runner, followed by Vlad, Ivan, and another guy. After we took our positions, I grabbed the red-and-white wooden baton, drew a couple deep breaths, and positioned my right foot on the starting block. With my limited exposure to starting blocks, I mimicked other contestants who seemed to be more track savvy. Each of us crouched down, tensely waiting for the crack of the starting gun. Once it rang out, I sprinted with all my energy around curve, hoping that I wouldn’t be passed. Another 12 seconds later, Vlad had the baton, and less than a minute later, the last runner had crossed the finish line.
Out of eight teams, we weren’t last place, but we certainly weren’t first either. We finished in sixth place, which should allow future foreign teams a chance to improve our time. Since we had never practiced together, I figured our relay was not so bad, and with one player running in jeans and a long-sleeve shirt, I’m sure we could have been better prepared. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable experience, especially with all the students lining the track and encouraging us to finish. Later on, Vlad told me I frightened him with my intense glare as I passed off the baton. Maybe I was a little too focused, but at least he took the baton without dropping it.
After finishing our race, we watched the long jump, high jump, and shot put competitions. Most of the contestants couldn’t launch the shot that far, but a few husky guys had some power behind their throw. Later we boarded the school bus and headed to an obscure restaurant in a seaside village near Golden Beach. Most of the dishes were seafood of some sort – clams, oysters, mollusks, and some kind of algae. Thankfully, there was one meat dish, which I jealously guarded, and plenty of tea. After lunch, we visited Golden Beach which was shrouded in fog. The ocean’s just not as impressive when you can’t see it. Since none of us wanted to do the climbing wall or swings, we milled about for a while, lamented the lack of sunshine, and then headed back to the bus.
Altogether, it was a good day. We may not have finished first at the 4x100m relay or eaten at a 5-star hotel, but we did finish the race and ate a seafood-concentrated meal among friends.