Saturday, August 16, 2008

My Olympics purely a spectator sport. I watch, I don't know why I watch, I don't know why I'm so fascinated that I will do nothing for that two week period in the evening but watch the Olympic coverage. I know nothing about sports--any of them, really. What I do know, however, is that I could never be a contender. I don't have the mental wherewithal, never mind what my body would do. Actually, I've been told over the years by a number of independent voices that I do have an athlete's body. My father was a professional athlete, and I guess I inherited something from him. The body type, that is, but certainly not the mental goods to go along with it. The repetition that is the hallmark of a training regime--I could never do that. I would get bored; I would whine; I would come up with a million and one reasons why I couldn't train that day. I don't know how the world-class athletes can bear the sheer tedium of swimming laps again and again and again and then again. Or marathon running: that training schedule of endlessly plowing up hills and down hills, around the block and into the countryside. I understand the mentality that goes into that about as well as I understand Chinese, which is to say not at all.

In the '80s, I did a profile of Mary T. Meagher, the famous Madame Butterfly, who still, I believe, holds the Olympic record for the 200 'fly. As part of the profile, I went to training with her one day. Oh, god, the absolute tedium of it. On the blocks, into the water, 'fly the length, haul body out of the water, walk around to the blocks and get in line to do it all over again. And again. And again. All afternoon and well into the evening. I escaped about 8 p.m., and Mary T. was still at it.

You know, it just occurred to me that I probably could learn Chinese sooner than I will ever understand how these athletes do it. Maybe that's why I watch them incessantly even though I haven't a clue what they're doing. To try to get some glimmer of what it is that drives them--and doesn't drive me.

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