Short Fiction: The Olympian

Shane “Slingshot” Adams sat on a milk crate outside a kebab shop and stared at the raindrops darting down into the street. Tiny flashes of white and blue and red, reflecting the lights of the cars and the shops. The rain trickled down the back of his neck, soaking the bright yellow collar of his Olympic uniform track suit. He took a bite of his kebab. In three years he had not eaten anything even borderline unhealthy, but what did that matter now? All he could taste was the sauce. He folded the foil wrap back over the kebab and set it on the ground next to the open beer bottle at his feet. Two locals walked past, sharing an umbrella. They smiled and waved to him and said something Shane could not understand. He nodded and gave a half-hearted smile. He did not speak the language.

Silver. It was a bad dream. Three years of full-time training. Three years of five o’clock starts, six days a week, hours in the gym, hours running, hours perfecting his grip, his approach, his every step, every movement, visualisation, breathing, release—and he got silver. He looked down at the medal hanging from around his neck. It was a curse. It was the wrong colour. No one wanted silver. No kid hung a silver medalist’s picture on his wall. No breakfast cereal company would be asking the second-best Olympic javelin thrower to promote their product.

    He blew it. He was far and away the best javelin thrower in the world. He had won every international competition in the last eight months. But when it counted, when the world was watching, when the average person for the first time in four years suddenly became interested in who could throw a spear the farthest, Shane had choked. His first throw of the medal round was glorious. It should have won him the gold. One single inch. His toes were an inch over the foul line, and the throw did not count. An inch. He could have released the javelin five metres back, and that throw still would have won him the gold. After that, he never quite got it together. His run-up was jittery, his release was too cautious. And then that bloody Croatian decided to have the greatest damn throwing day of his life. Never did better than bronze at any world class athletics meet before, and now he throws like he’s bloody Hercules and steals the gold. Shane hung his head and rubbed his eyes.

Cars swished past on the wet road. When Shane looked up, a tall, scruffy man missing half his teeth stood before him, looking at him. The man was barefoot, and his pants and shirt were dirty and ragged. Shane nodded to the man. The man stared at the kebab by Shane’s feet. Shane looked down, picked up the kebab and tossed it to the homeless man. The man caught it, sniffed it, then put it in his pocket. He kept staring at Shane’s feet. Cars swished past. Shane untied his shoes, stood up and handed them to the man. Without acknowledging Shane, the man took the shoes and put them on his feet. He tested them, stomping a few paces, then smiled a wide, gummy grin and walked off. Shane watched him go. He looked down and wiggled his toes. His socks were soaked. He looked back at the homeless man in the two-hundred-and-forty-dollar pair of shoes and smiled. Who wants to promote breakfast cereal anyway? He sighed and looked up the street for a taxi headed toward the Olympic village. He remembered a couple of players from the Hungarian women’s water polo team had seemed interested in having sex with him.


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