I can touch my ceiling…and other great Olympic feats!

In honour of the Olympic Games, here is a hybrid version of something I wrote four years ago (Citius-Altius-Fortius), a column I published in today’s Métro, and some new material: (Voir plus bas pour la version Française abrégée).

The Olympics and I go way back. I was in the 1976 games in Montreal. Well…more like “at” the games rather than “in,” but let’s not get technical. I was 17 and my summer job was to work crowd control. We were all hired for six weeks even though the games took place over the last two. For the first four weeks, we were asked to make sure no trouble happened around the site. In actual fact, we slept – or watched the construction workers sleep while being paid overtime – played frisbee, and admired our orange polyester double-knit jump suits. Good times, good times! I got to watch the closing ceremonies from my perch atop one of the scoreboards. A great experience!

Just prior to the start of the games, I had the opportunity to walk into the newly built Olympic stadium. I was alone in the cavernous behemoth. The red rubberized track still had that new track smell – just like at the track showroom! The white lines were perfect. I looked around and saw that I was near the long jump pit. I was wearing my new red suede Adidas Gazelle running shoes and decided to test myself.

I looked around. Still nobody! I focused down the lane and started running. I reached my top speed and hit the take-off strip almost perfectly. My leap was magnificent – a classic double hitch with a full stretch at the landing. I landed at a point exactly half way between the take-off line and the START of the sand pit landing area. Holy s***, that’s a long way! The long-jump world record, by the way, is as long as my house!

Citius – Altius – Fortius
Call me a purist but I think real Olympic sports are the ones where the winner can be determined precisely. Yes, I know, diving is beautiful sport, but come on, can we really say who is best? Every dive looks great only to be criticized by the commentators. “Oh, that was a total miss. Look at the splash that came up.” A miss? Are you kidding me? My golf balls bring up more splash when I plop one into a water hazard. By the way, when I dive into my pool, enough water is thrown out to irrigate a good-sized rice paddy.

My experience at the long-jump pit impressed me like no other. Notwithstanding our fantasies of great athletic achievements, nothing compares to taking a clock or a measuring tape and seeing how you stack up to the world’s best. It is a humbling experience indeed.

There is a famous cycling record, the one-hour race in a velodrome. Basically, it involves racing around the track for one-hour and calculating how far you’ve traveled. The record is held by Chris Boardman, who covered 56 kilometers. I once calculated how my best performance on a bike would compare to the vaunted hour-record. Now I’m no athlete but I’m a pretty decent cyclist. In fact, I could be world class if there was a category called: Senior – Extra Stout. Well, if I were on the same track and pumping at full capacity, Chris would lap me 108 times. That’s once every 33 seconds!

Javier Sotomayor’s world record high jump is higher than my living room ceiling! On a good day, with a proper warm-up, I think I can touch the ceiling with my fingertips. Of course, getting my ass to clear such a height is a whole other matter.

I did some weightlifting in high school. I was in eighth grade and still young (13) but I won the competition among my classmates with a clean-and-jerk of 125 pounds! The teacher once put 200 pounds on the bar. I couldn’t even move it. Hossein Rezazadeh’s world record in the clean-and jerk is 580 pounds! That’s almost three of me…and remember, I’m extra stout! (as Sylvester the cat would whimper when in trouble, “Mother!”)

So, hats off to all those incredible human specimens competing in the Olympics. I am truly in awe of all of them. If you are one of those people who sits on your sofa all day criticizing athletes that don’t win medals in events they were favoured in, try getting on a bike and timing yourself. Or better yet, take a long hard look at your ceiling!

Flag vs flag
As impressive as Olympic performances can be, there is one aspect of the games that makes me uncomfortable. It is the unbridled jingoism it can encourage. Is there anything more disheartening than the story this week about the Lebanese judo fighters refusing to train next to the Israelis, forcing officials to erect a screen between them? Human nature’s tendency to form and label groups can be fun when you cheer for a national team, but should the place of someone’s birth be celebrated as much as the individual achievement? One of the reasons we need to spend so much money on security is because the world is so strongly divided along political, linguistic, and religious lines. The fun of cheering for a flag has an evil twin. National pride magnifies our differences.

This is not to say we should not enjoy cheering on our Canadian athletes. I will be right there with the rest of you. But let’s not forget that a magnificent athletic achievement is still inspiring even if the winner has a name we can’t pronounce. The Olympic games provide us with an opportunity to celebrate humanity as much as country.


Voici la version Française:

La fièvre olympique

D’ici la publication de cette chronique, plusieurs d’entre nous baigneront déjà dans la ferveur nationaliste que seuls les Jeux Olympiques peuvent susciter. Comme la plupart d’entre vous, j’aurai de la difficulté à m’éloigner de la télévision. Heureusement, cette chronique est de la longueur idéale pour être lue pendant une pause commerciale.

Les meilleurs
L’aspect le plus impressionnant de l’athlétisme est que de nombreuses performances peuvent être mesurées avec précision, ce qui permet les comparaisons avec les meilleurs du monde. Par exemple, Javier Sotomayor a établi le record du monde du saut en hauteur, qui est supérieur à la hauteur du plafond de mon salon! Dans mes bons jours, après un réchauffement approprié, je peux toucher le plafond du bout des doigts. Mais, franchir cette hauteur est une toute autre histoire. Il en va de même pour Chris Boardman, qui a enregistré le record du monde de l’heure cycliste. Si j’étais sur la même piste et que je donnais mon maximum, il me dépasserait 108 fois, soit une fois toutes les 33 secondes! Je m’incline devant ces magnifiques athlètes. « Ce sont des machines. »

Le meilleur… en quelque sorte
Traitez-moi de puriste, mais ce qui me déplaît dans les Jeux Olympiques, c’est qu’il y a trop de sports dans lesquels on ne peut déterminer de gagnant avec précision. Citius, altius, fortius ne s’applique pas toujours. Pour déterminer le plus fort, on peut ajouter du poids sur une barre, jusqu’à ce qu’il ne reste plus qu’une personne. Mais déterminer le gymnaste qui a fait le meilleur salto ou le cheval qui a la meilleure allure est différent. Dans la plupart des épreuves, les résultats sont assez évidents, mais quelque chose se perd lorsqu’il faut un juge pour déterminer un gagnant.

Drapeau contre drapeau
Ce qui me déplaît, dans les olympiades, c’est le chauvinisme débridé qu’il peut susciter. La tendance de la nature humaine à étiqueter des groupes peut être plaisante lorsqu’on prend pour un drapeau autant que pour un athlète. Mais le lieu de naissance d’une personne devrait-il être célébré autant que son exploit individuel? L’une des raisons pour lesquelles nous devons consacrer autant d’argent à la sécurité est que le monde est fortement divisé par la politique, la langue et la religion. La partisannerie rend heureux, mais cette fierté nationale amplifie aussi les différences.

Cela ne signifie pas que nous devions nous abstenir d’encourager nos athlètes locaux. Je le ferai, comme vous. Mais, n’oublions pas que la magnifique performance athlétique est tout aussi inspirante si le vainqueur a un nom imprononçable. Les Jeux Olympiques nous fournissent l’occasion de célébrer l’humanité, autant qu’un pays.

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Posted in Human nature, Humour.

Posted on 31 Jul 2012

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