Winston had been a late-comer to international athletics, but like his races, he'd made up ground on his rivals fast. That's how he lived life, fast. As a kid, Winston had regularly won inter-school competitions. Teachers encouraged him to join an athletics club. But young Winston hadn't needed a track to perfect his sprinting. Running from the cops gave him all the practise he needed to win those schoolboy races.
And then one day, after snatching a handbag, his speed and luck failed him: Winston tripped and fell. "Bloody hell, son, you're quick," the panting cop had told him, slapping cuffs on his wrists. "You ought to put your talent to good use. You're wasting it in crime."
As he'd done with his teachers, parents and even the parish priest, all of whom had said the same thing at one stage or another, Winston sneered at the cop's advice. They were establishment figures, and the gang he hung out with hated the Establishment. His life of crime would have continued and likely escalated. But on that day, the cop put Winston in a holding cell with a busted-faced ex-boxer.
"You want to end up like me, boy?" the old man had asked him. "If I'd stayed out of trouble, I could have been a world champion. I could have earned millions. Instead, I've spent the best years of my life in jail, using my fists to fight for smokes. Wise up, boy. You've got a gift from God. Use it!"
The judge handed down a suspended sentence with a "last chance" warning. Winston masked his contempt for the judge, but heeded his old cellmate and joined an athletics club. To his surprise and frustration, he wasn't an instant success. He needed coaching and a disciplined approach to fitness, diet and mental preparation. "You want to be the fastest," the athletics coach told him, "you need to be the strongest."
Winston grudgingly listened to his coach. He followed the training program, joined a gym and was soon dominating regional track events and attracting the attention of national talent spotters. When he debuted internationally, the newspapers nicknamed him, "The Meteor", as much for his meteoric rise in athletics, as for his scorching speed on the track.
But despite his new life and fame, Winston did not sever links with his old gang. And his occasional brushes with the law still made more news than his triumphs on the track. It left him angry and determined to be stronger and faster.
Winston left the empty drink bottle on the table for the attendant to clean up and walked back to the weights area. He had rested too long and felt tight, so he stretched and warmed up in front of the mirrors. Winston flexed his limbs and smiled at the bulk and definition of his muscles. He liked the powerful image in the mirror. And the thought that after the Worlds, he would be on the front page of all the newspapers. And on the TV.
The hours he'd spent training, his diet, his mental preparation, his strength and conditioning, would come together in a few blistering seconds on the track. It would all be worthwhile, even the risks he'd taken in the gym, to finally gain the respect he deserved from the media and public. And the Establishment!
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Winston noticed his trainer nodding at him in the gym mirror. "Looking good, champ."
"Feeling good, man," Winston responded, tensing his body and flexing his biceps. "And in two weeks," he added, "I'll be on top of the world."
© 1994, 2019 Robert Fairhead
Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads storytelling podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.
Footnote: As I blogged on Tall And True in November 2019, I started working on Both Sides of the Story in February 1994. It was my third submission to the then annual Ian St James Awards, at the time the UK's biggest fiction prize for unpublished writers.
The idea for the story came to me while working out in a gym. The news at the time was full of items about people for whom the public (including me) had little sympathy. Phil Collins was singing his Both Sides song on MTV in the gym, and the music video set me thinking: Could I show both sides of the news in a short story?
So I started writing Both Sides of the Story, as a five-part short story. Westminster, Bosnia, A Council Flat, and The Gym are four standalone vignettes. And Bad News is the fifth and final part, which links and resolves the story.
Please note, my intention in writing this short story twenty-five years ago was not to be an apologist for my characters or their actions. Then, as now, my goal was to follow Phil Collins' lead and try to imagine both sides of the story.