As the class made its way down to the Quidditch pitch, Ron bombarded Harry with questions.
"Does he really have three gold medals in Acrobatics? How do you know him, Harry? Is he well known to Muggles? I mean, he has his own line of brooms at Quality Quidditch Supplies and everything," Ron rattled on, his voice mixing with the buzz of the other students’ voices. "I think they're named Birdhouse Brooms. They're Type Fours – Acrobatic standard – but they're just as expensive as the Firebolt line. Have you state-horde-ed, Harry? How can you do tricks on a board? I can't see how–"
Hermione clamped her hand over Ron's mouth. "It's Skateboard, and give Harry a break, Ron," she said. Her grin was as wide as Harry's. "It's not every day you meet an Olympian, and a video game god at that."
"Wid-e-oh game? What's that?" Ron asked after prying Hermione's hand from his mouth. Harry noted, with a grin, that Ron kept holding her hand as they walked down the hill from the castle.
Harry sighed inwardly. Explaining Muggle things to Ron always took lots of time and didn't always work. He remembered, in vain, trying to explain microwaves and toasters.
"You remember when I explained the television, right?" asked Harry. Ron nodded. "Well, imagine a box connected to it that let you move the characters on the telly as part of a game. Some are people fighting aliens, some fighting monsters with Muggle guns, and some," Harry said, pointing to Hawk leading the gaggle of students, "let you play real-life characters doing stunts on skateboards. I got to play Dudley's PlayStation before he broke it. It was fun, but I like Quidditch better."
Hawk turned slightly and slowed his pace as they neared the pitch. Harry saw that it had been altered. The rings at each end had been removed and in their place at each end were long curving ramps, each about 100 feet tall. There were also some strange strips of grass with chalk lines running the length of the pitch.
"What are those ... things?" said a voice from the crowd of students. All eyes took in the pitch and then turned towards Hawk. He had stopped at the edge of the pitch and had put his armful of brooms and equipment down onto the grass.
Hawk began donning a set of elbow and knee pads and a helmet. He motioned to the ramps. "Those things are called air chargers. They're magicked to make a broom rider accelerate as they fly along them," he said. He finished buckling his helmet and adjusting his gloves. "I thought the best way to explain Acrobatics was to show you. Before I hit the air, though, I want to show you the brooms."
He bent down and picked up a Firebolt. Harry recognized the lines immediately. His fingers itched to try and see if the broom handled as well as his.
"Most of you probably know this one – it's a Quidditch standard broom," Hawk said. "The Firebolt is one of the best Quidditch brooms I've ever used. It has incredible speed, great turning and its braking is better than anything else I've flown."
Hawk hefted the broom and then twirled it between his fingers, slowly. "This is a Type One broom, or rated for Quidditch only. Type Ones are the only brooms used in the Olympics for Quidditch, and since Brits don't do much else besides that, some of you probably haven't even see the other four types," he said.
Harry felt his pulse quicken. He had read about the others in Ron's "Quidditch Weekly," but had never seen them up close. He watched as Hawk laid the Firebolt back onto the grass and picked up a thin, streamlined broom. It had a crossbar at the top of the broom with handgrips that reminded Harry of a motorcycle.
"This broom," said Hawk, hefting the broom high so all could see it, "Is a Type Two broom. A Sprinting standard broom." He rotated the red-colored broom for all to see it. "This one is an Italian ’Verdi’ brand, the Redfire 3.
"It's made of cherry wood, has some of the most extreme charms on it and is not for wimps," Hawk said, smiling slightly. "It’s made for short, but VERY fast races. Speed racing is pretty new, but everyone watches it because the broom companies unveil the newest in speed charm advances every Olympics just for this sport."
Hawk lowered the broom and pointed to the cross bar. "The handlebars are only part of the alterations you'll see on Type Twos. The acceleration of these things can throw any wizard or witch off quicker than a Bludger wiping out a Seeker ... so, you need to hold on with everything you’ve got.
"The lengths of the races are pretty standard. Racers compete in 100-, 400- and 800-meter length races, but not on a Muggle-type track. All are on a straightaway track, like this one, and usually with stands for spectators on each side. Sprints are hard to watch, though, 'cause the speeds of the Type Two brooms are really fast. In Athens they clocked in at over 280 miles per hour," Hawk said.
Whispers and a low whistle came from the crowd of students, each craning their necks to get a better view of the broom. The shiny wood ended in a bundle of sticks that were so uniform they looked pre-formed to Harry. He watched as Hawk held the broom out in front of him, releasing the handle about waist-high. The broom almost hummed as the class moved away from it.
Hawk stood next to the broom and faced the crowd. He was standing right next to the racing lane, with the broom hovering over a starting line.
"Two preliminary heats for each length are held, with the top ten finishers moving to the finals," Hawk said. "The officials use elaborate time-keeping charms to mark the times for the competitors." He smirked. "No one country has dominated this sport, but the magic craft advances in Type Two brooms are closely guarded secrets in each country. Sprint racing is two-fold, though. Speed of the broom is only part of the race."
Hawk pointed at the chalked lane running from his feet down to the end of the pitch. "This is a 100-meter lane. Each competitor stands next to his or her broom in each lane. At the starter's signal, each competitor mounts and races to the end of each lane," he said.
Hawk then pointed to Seamus. "You there. Can you do a Snap charm?" he asked.
"Er, yes, sir," said Seamus, a bit nervous. He pulled out his wand. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just count to ten, then give me a snap. I'll mount my broom and try and make it to the end of the lane in under four seconds," Hawk said, handing a magical stopwatch to Hermione. He pointed to it. "That's been synched to this lane and should register my time from the start until I cross the finish line down there," he said pointing.
"Whenever you're ready," he said to Seamus.
Harry felt his heart start to pound. He'd read about the famous British sprinters over the years, but had never seen any sprinting done up close. Quidditch broom makers used the advances in sprinting brooms to refine Quidditch standards, each Olympics advancing the world of broom-making by big leaps and bounds.
Seamus had been counting silently to himself before he waved his wand high in the air. A sharp bang spit from the tip of his wand.
Hawk threw himself onto the broom and was away quicker than Harry had ever seen a broom take off. Mere seconds later, the stopwatch in Hermione's hand gave a small chime with glowing red numbers on the face. Harry watched as Hawk struggled to turn the broom and fly back to the students. "It doesn't turn well," Harry muttered to Ron.
"Most sprinting brooms don't, I’ve heard," Ron murmured back. Hawk returned back to the crowd, slower this time, and came to a stop where he had left. He hopped off the broom and returned it to the grass in front of the class. He took the stopwatch from Hermione and looked at the time: 5.67 seconds.
"Hm. Not bad, but I'm not even close to Merriweather's record," he said, mostly to himself. Holding the watch up for everyone to see, he shook his head. "I'm not even close to the best sprinter in the world, so don't take my performance as 'standard'. Phillip Merriweather of New Zealand has the World Record. He got it in Los Angeles in 1984 – broke the three second barrier. Everyone's been trying to beat 2.97 seconds since then."
Hawk laid the stopwatch on the grass and fingered the broom. "Sprint racing is two-fold. Don't think that just having a really fast broom will make you win. You have to stand by the broom in your lane, and, at the starter's signal, hit the broom as fast as you can."
Dean blurted out, "Hit the broom, sir?"
Hawk tilted his head. "Oh, yeah. American slang -- I forgot, we don’t really speak the same language, do we? I mean mount the broom as fast as you can. Mounting times can make or break a race, with sprinters spending years perfecting their techniques." Hawk plucked a copy of the Olympic Magic text from the assorted equipment and turned to a page near the middle. "Page 49 has some diagrams of the most-used method. Arlo Lehtienen of Finland is credited with inventing the current form of mounting, the Arlo Hop, or as most sprinters call it, 'Arlo-ing.' "
Hawk dropped the book to the grass, moved behind the broom and demonstrated the move. "You can't touch the broom until the start is given, but as soon as it does, you jump from the back–" Hawk took a half-step and jumped on the broom from the rear. "–like that. Then lean forward and the broom takes it from there. I don't like doing it this way, well, 'cause it can be hard on male sprinters if you miss the seat." Hawk dramatically grimaced to the class and got a few titters. The way he hopped onto the broom reminded Harry of the Muggle Western cowboys that mounted horses at a running jump from the rear of the horse.
"Lehtienen started Arlo-ing in the 1938 Berlin games," Hawk said, climbing off the broom. "It got him the gold medal in both the 100- and 400-meter events. The current record holder in the 400-meter event is an Aussie. Herb Randall's the name. His time of 6.9 seconds still stands from the L. A. games."
Hawk laid the broom down on the grass next to the others. "Questions?" he asked the class. Hands went up and for the next few minutes the class peppered him with questions.
Harry was staring at the other brooms but heard Seamus' question about speed. Hawk laughed, a deep and easy laugh. "Yeah, you can put too many acceleration charms on a Type Two broom. There's always some crazy sprinter that overloads it and doesn't finish the race – though their broom sometimes does."
Amid the laughter Neville asked, "So it's partly the broom and the rest how well you hang on?"
"Partly," Hawk said. "Look, I'm not really a sprinter. I trained with the American team so I know most of what they do. We'll have a real sprinter next week from Scotland to show you guys more, so he can answer any questions if you want to be in the sprinting competitions."
There was dead silence. Everyone stared, as if Hawk had grown another head. As if realizing what he had said, Hawk blushed slightly. "Oops. I forgot. I got caught up in all the details." He grinned sheepishly. "In addition to the Quidditch cup this year, your Headmaster approved a mini-Olympics for all students third year or above. You can't compete in all events, but for the next week I'll be introducing you all to the events and you can enter a maximum of three of them."
The class exploded with excitement. Ron was tugging at Harry's arm and Hermione was furiously paging through her Olympic history text. Hawk had to yell over the hub-bub to be heard.
"If some of you are on the Quidditch house teams, you can only be in two other events," Hawk said. The ruckus grew even louder, and Harry heard Ron groan something about wanting to be in all events.
"I know, I know," Hawk said, his hands raised in front of him. The class quieted again. "You all want to be in everything. But you still have schoolwork and other things. Speaking of which, we need to finish these demos before the period is over." He stooped and picked up another broom.
"This is a Type Three broom, distance standard. These brooms are similar to Quidditch brooms, but are made to help you ride for hours on a broom at high speed. Type Threes are usually made by a company in the host country – each rider is given the same brand and model broom before racing." Hawk let the broom hover in front of him. "This one was made by Platypus Brooms and was the standard distance broom for the Sydney Games in 2000. It can go about 220 miles per hour and has some pretty good cushioning charms.
"You use a Type Three in the Cross Country Racing events. The 25K and 100K marathons are some of the toughest events in the whole Olympics. They're held way off the beaten path to avoid Muggle eyes, and are really long. "
Hawk stooped again and came up holding goggles, a cloak and some gloves. "These are pretty standard equipment for most marathoners. The goggles are pretty regular – some Quidditch players use them during bad weather matches."
Ron elbowed Harry in the side. "Don't you have some of those?" Harry grinned back.
Hawk held up the cloak and gloves. "These are charmed to give the wearer waterproofing and protection from the elements. Seems that the weather has always been a factor in the marathons, so you sometimes need the extra warmth – or relief from the heat, depending on where the race is held. The 1924 Stockholm games had a blizzard during the 25K marathon, and the 2000 Sydney Games through the Outback forced over three-quarters of the competitors to drop out of the 100K marathon because of the heat."
Hawk dropped the items back into the pile of equipment. "Most marathons have two to four competitors from each country. The rules are simple – no wands allowed, landing on the ground will disqualify you, and the first to the finish line wins. That's pretty much it."
"Sounds kinda rough," Harry said out loud. Hawk smiled at him.
"Yeah, the officials try and keep bodily contact out of it, but some players still play dirty," Hawk said. "But with extreme weather, most marathoners are just trying to stay on their brooms. Plus there's usually a maximum height you can fly – and that varies over the course. I think the highest the Sydney marathoners could fly was around sixty feet."
Hermione's face was set in a firm way that Harry knew that she had something important to ask. At least to her, he thought.
"Mr. Hawk," she asked. "You haven't mentioned men or women's events. Are there separate events like in the Muggle Olympic Games?"
Hawk shook his head. "Nope. Muggles separate their events because of the physical differences between men and women. But in the Wizarding Games, no gender, race, religion, creed or physical difference matters. You just compete."
He paused. "Having been to both kinds of Olympics, though, the same spirit of competition is there." Hawk's eyes dropped to the broom in front of him. "You have to feel it – that energy you get when you march out during the Opening Exercises. You're there, representing your country, your family, your friends ... yourself. And yet even though some of the competitions get pretty heated, it's all good. We're there to compete and have fun, doing our best and trying our magic against their magic." He bowed his head for a moment, and then raised it, looking out over the class. "Muggles call it 'magical.' I call it just the Olympic Spirit. I hope we get some of it here."
The class had quieted again, listening to the tall man's emotion seeping through his voice. Harry felt a touch of it – it felt the same as when he had won the House Cup his third year. He missed that feeling, that happy, everything-is-right-with-the-world joy. Deep down, he wondered if he could feel it again, despite all that had happened the year before.
Hawk moved the broom back to the pile on the grass. Holding up the largest of the collection he began his flowing narrative.
"This is a Type Five, broom, Obstacle Standard," he said. Some of the students snickered. "Don't laugh – this broom is made for abuse. It is double the weight and thickness of regular flying brooms. Type Fives are made to combine acrobatics, speed and durability." Hawk looked at the students that had smirks or distain for such a monster of a broom. "I know, Type Fives are mostly sneered at by other riders as ’slow’ and ‘clanky’ but when dodging dragons or the elements, most wizards would rather use a Type Five."
"Excuse me, sir, but did you say dragons?" Neville squeaked out.
A/N: Thanks to all that have reviewed! Now ... go tell your friends!
I'm sorry about the small cliffie. I will resolve the broom events in Chapter 3. I'm open to ideas, so if you want to review and drop them on me, go ahead. I've had a lot of fun thinking up these events, so let me know what you think! Quidditch fans: I'll have a good, healthy dose of Quidditch in this fic -- and don't despair, shippers. I'll have some H/G, R/Hr for you to chew on!