"We should be able to see them coming out of the fog by now," the speaker said into his microphone, "So, where are our two combatants?"
The white vapor rested like a dense blanket over the entire arena, making the thousands of human beings who were waiting by the track’s finishing line, standing squeezed together on a terrace, completely quiet. Every single one of the people in the crowd held their breaths as they knew that the conclusion of the great contest would be over in a short period of time.
Would Germany’s own favorite athlete, Robin Beckenbauer, get to win his first golden medal on home grounds, or would the Norwegian lightning bolt once again snatch it right before his eyes?
As they had passed the final checkpoint, Beckenbauer had had a ten second advantage over the Norwegian star, but would that be enough? Sure, the German was in good shape, but everyone knew that no one had defeated the Norwegian star in a sprint to the finishing line. Especially not if there was gold in sight.
Soon, you could see the dark shadow of a man breaking through the whiteness of the vapor. A deafening roar was released from the crowd as they could make out the yellow and black colors of Robin Beckenbauer’s tight suit. They cheered and threw their hats into the air, hugging each other in a state of bliss. The gold was secured! He had managed to defeat the red lightning bolt! There was no end to the happiness of the German audience as they prepared themselves to sing the national anthem and readied their phones to post Facebook updates about the amazing victory.
“It seems like Beckenbauer had a really good breakfast this morning; he’s basically skiing on clouds!” the speaker screamed.
That was when another shadow arose from the fog, as well.
The crowd grew quiet for a split second, exchanging concerned looks. Then a man started screaming and all of the other ones followed his example, only that this time around, the shrill cry was one of panic, and not ecstasy.
The speaker started jumping up and down while flailing his arms. “Look! Brekke is closing in on Beckenbauer!”
Robin Beckenbauer, who had been wearing a smile on his sweaty face, took a quick look over his shoulder and his heart instantly stopped beating. He had thought that the gold was already in his hand and that his journey towards the finishing line would be a jolly walk in the park; now he had to set his mind on a completely different kind of scenery. This was going to be nothing but an energy-draining battle to the last millesimal of a second, if he knew his opponent right.
He ordered his legs to start working on a faster frequency; but they stubbornly refused to obey his command. The lactic acids had taken over. Robin cursed himself for not listening properly to his mother as she used to tell him to never count the chickens before they had hatched.
The short distance to the finishing line betrayed its fellow-citizen.
Egil Brekke knew that he could easily take the German athlete down in a sprint, that is if he could milk the precious final ounces of reserved carbs stored in his body and turn it into energy. His body screamed for him to stop, but his brain refused to be a loser. No one ever remembered the man with the silver medal, ever.
He started pushing his body to the absolute limit; nearly skipping forward like a rabbit on his pair of skis. The snow was compact, almost crisp; the functionaries had poured bags of salt on the track. It was a couple of degrees warm and the salt was needed to make the snow stick together and not form a snow-swamp for the contestants to swim through.
Robin Beckenbauer could almost feel Egil’s heavy breathing against the skin of his neck as he could see the red finishing line more clearly. The line was a simple straight line drawn in the snow from one commercial post to the other. His team was there, cheering for him and screaming so that their voices would be gone the following morning. He couldn’t let them down; he had to fight furiously against the living machine who was trying to eat him alive. This was his moment to shine bright like all of his idols had in the past.
“Egil and Robin are fighting side by side!” the speaker screeched and his eyes rolled around in their sockets.
Egil had managed to somehow push his body next to Robin’s, and as they approached the line – he had the advantage. Surely, it wasn’t a big one but it was enough for him. Egil pressed all of his weight onto his two skis while using his ski poles to push himself forward. The muscles of his tense torso contracted as he took one final stride to end the race.
He glided over the line and everything was quiet except for the speaker’s constant ranting. The crowd was disappointed and they all agreed that Robin deserved the place in the spotlight more. The Norwegian had already had his fair share of starlight and fame.
“And Egil Brekke has done it again, ladies and gentlemen! He has claimed his eleventh medal this season – is there no stop to this man?”
Egil fell to his knees, the drool and snot was mixed together in a cocktail of victory on his chin. Everything was spinning. His lungs and muscles were all cramping and the loud beating of his own heart sounded like gun-shots in his ears. And then, before he had even had time to catch his breath, there was a camera and a microphone in his face.
Robin also laid splayed out on the white snow, tears prickling down his face. His abilities hadn’t been enough this time either, but it was so close. The taste of victory had been replaced by the bitterness of losing. A member of Beckenbauer’s team had to remove the skis from his feet, as the biathlete in no way was capable of doing it himself.
A young and pretty journalist nudged the cool surface of a microphone onto Egil’s hot and trembling lips. He was half blind since his gasping breaths had formed a thin haze on the glass of his huge protective glasses. The journalist popped the standard question with a fake smile plastered on her face.
“How does it feel to have won the gold medal?” she asked with a heavy German accent.
Lonely, he wanted to say, but he couldn’t do that. People couldn’t know about how he really felt. Betrayed. Worthless. Stupid.
“It feels… amazing.”