Eulace Peacock, of Dothan, Alabama died of Alzheimer's disease in Yonkers, New York in 1996. He was 82. He served in the US Coast Guard, briefly ran a liquor store, and then a car rental. He lived an ordinary life, and a relatively fulfilling one for a member of what is classified as the Greatest Generation in the western generational cohorts.
But there was another side to Peacock.
Through the early 1930s, he was the fiercest rival in domestic competitions of a sprinter from Oakville, Alabama called Jesse Owens. In 1935, he defeated Owens in a national event that appeared to set up an all-American Olympic duel for the ages between the two fastest men on Earth at the time.
Peacock could not make it to the 1936 Berlin Games because of a hamstring injury. Owens won four golds, and became the world's most famous athlete. No matter, thought Peacock, perhaps his time would come in Tokyo 1940.
But, as world history tells us, that was not to be. By the time London 1948 came along, he had long retired.
The Olympics skipped their four-year cycle twice during World War 2. Looking back at the lost Games of 1940 and 1944 (the host city in 1944 was meant to be Helsinki) from 80 years in the future, they seem like small blips on the radar for the Olympic movement. But, from the perspective of a generation of sportspeople, they were missed opportunities that changed the course of their lives.
On the eve of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, being held a year later than scheduled in the shadow of a virus and amid opposition from the Japanese public, there is some logic to this simple question: Why hold the Games in the middle of the Covid pandemic?
The answers offered by most experts point to economics, and accurately so.
They explain how the Japanese government could not unilaterally call off the Games without breaching its contracts with the International Olympic Committee, and with a whole host of sponsors, many of whom helped build facilities and recreate parts of Tokyo for the returns they would get over the two weeks of competition.
How Clause 66 of the host city contract signed between IOC and Tokyo in 2013 gave the Olympic committee the option of simply walking away if the Games were not delivered; and even if IOC was at its most benevolent, most of the associated losses would have to be absorbed by the organisers.
How the cost of cancellation is prohibitive, and its burden would eventually fall on the Japanese public. According to economist Miyamoto Katsuhiro in 2020, postponing the games for a year cost $6.5 billion due to lost revenue from international visitors and operating costs, and calling off the Games altogether would cost 4.5 trillion yen (roughly $45 billion). The numbers have varied between experts, but they are all in tens of billions of dollars.
How pandemics are not part of the Olympics insurance plans the way weather phenomenon like hurricanes and tsunamis are, and insurance for natural disasters, in any case, covers only a fraction of the costs.
But let us leave these arguments aside for a moment and reflect on how we define sport, and what it really stands for.
Is it a mere pastime? Surely it cannot be because it takes too much out of both players and followers. Is it just entertainment? The fact that it's unscripted and open-ended seems to override a key proviso. Is it all about the money? Not for the 8-year-old kid who picks up a tennis racquet for the first time after watching a Roger Federer whiplash backhand.
If sport truly has a larger purpose – to inform life, not just imitate it; to push the boundaries of what is possible; to inspire a larger collective; to give humanity markers of what can be achieved, and then keep pushing those markers, millisecond by millisecond, over the decades – can the quest to hold the Olympics (of course as safely as possible) be just an economic one?
Eulace Peacock, and thousands like him whose aspirations became geopolitical collateral damage, would perhaps have something to say.