ESPN “goes there” with a piece about how, sometimes, athletes are so busy competing that they do not stop to poop.
Tim Tebow does too. LeBron James poops. Derek Jeter, Maria Sharapova, Drew Brees — they all poop. Most of these stars will never have a Julie Moss moment or even a Serena Williams scare. And if they did, it’s highly unlikely they’d ever talk as openly about it as Paula Radcliffe does in discussing her own Defcon 1 incident. The British distance runner and Nike spokesperson was four miles from winning the 2005 London Marathon when she stopped suddenly and darted to the side of the course. Radcliffe had been losing time for several miles because of gastrointestinal disturbances — the kind that, according to one study, affect 83 percent of marathoners and that are usually preceded by gaseous outbursts that runners call walkie-talkies.
Radcliffe’s solution? She simply placed one hand on a metal crowd barricade for balance, used the other to curtain her shorts to the side and perched, precariously, over her shoes. Then, as they say in England, she proceeded to “have a poo” right there on the street and in broad daylight, within two feet of a startled spectator. “I didn’t really want to resort to that in front of hundreds of thousands of people,” she says, unfazed. “But when I’m racing, I’m totally focused on winning the race and running as fast as possible. I thought, I just need to go and I’ll be fine.”
She was fine. Radcliffe finished her pit stop, adjusted her shorts and floated through the next four miles to win by more than five minutes and set a world record for a women-only marathon. The most telling part of the whole scene was the BBC announcer’s description. He insisted Radcliffe was just stretching out “a cramp” during her brief detour. Cheeky bastard.
Afterward, there was no public backlash. That’s a tribute, Inglis says, to the supreme cultural power of sports. He offers this scenario: If Radcliffe had been out on the street in London a day earlier, walking with her kids or her dog, and stopped to relieve herself on the sidewalk, she would have been arrested, shunned and dropped by Nike within an hour. But the fact that she did it in the middle of a race made it not just okay but, in some weird way, kind of awesome. “You truly begin to get a sense of how influential sports are only when you realize it’s one of the few activities where society’s willing to override such strong feelings about defecation,” Inglis says. “We make something so taboo acceptable, for a little bit at least, because it’s being done for the sake of what we see as a higher sporting ideal.”