Thursday, July 5, 2012

One Short Sports: The Logic of Racing & Diving

In his classic "Lose Yourself" Eminem begins:

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted-One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

His song etches the challenge of the Olympic moment. Each Olympic moment presents this, just one shot. Each race, each game, each point accumulate but end in this one moment that Olympian athletes have fought their entire lives to achieve.

His song came to mind as I watched the Olympic trials especially the titanic races between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte which kept ending with .05 to .2 second differentials. I realized again how a certain set of sports give athletes only one shot with no room for error. 

I think back to the winter Olympic and the incredible performance of American skier Linsey Vonn collapsing, sobbing and  crying on her husband's shoulder after her gold medal run in the women's alpine Olympic. The scary intense no room for error run   reminded me of the song. 

She cried from joy, satisfaction, triumph and relief. On the same night I watched Shaun White simply soar at a different level than the rest of his competition in the snow board half pipe as he glided, slung, twisted and contorted his way to a stunning, dare I say it, awesome, performance winning the gold medal in the half pipe. White whooped and hollered and hugged. Later he played air guitar at the end of the national anthem on the podium. His whoops and hollers reflected jubilation and triumph and relief.

Why the relief? During the winter Olympics I realized several things about  sports. Many winter sports incur far more danger than your typical summer sports. I mean careening down bumpy slopes and flying off ledges at 100 kilometers an hour; luging around tracks in astronaut training speeds; turning, twisting and launching into the air all entail real risk of life and limb. Lindsey Vonn skied with a huge bruise on her thigh and had to overcome several major injuries since her last Olympics. Askel Svindel returned from a battered and broken body to win the men's ski gold, for as he put it in his blog, "ten seconds" to stand and know you had done it with your run. A lugger died.

These athletes bring a level of courage and pushing the edge that does not exist in most other sports because of the real physical danger that courts them at every second. They  are not encased in cars or kevlar, just them, their bodies, equipment and the elements. 

The summer sports generally do not bring a similar level of danger, but they still express the incredible pressure and naked end of pure competition. One wins, everyone else loses. Just like the winter Olympics many of the sports represent just one shot sports.

 "One shot" sports differ from many sports that offer theme and variations over and over again with ample opportunities in the flow of a game to overcome lapses and still win. Soccer, volleyball, baseball, basketball all unfold as continuous and repetitive plays during their allotted time with ebbs and flows, lots of second chances. But one shot sports present a different psychological and performance profile. Athletes have literally just one shot with no room for error.

These sports really provide just  one shot. Just one chance with the athlete or team alone, waiting, the bell sounds and the individual is off. It all rides on one ride, one run, dive, one row. All the races, diving, swimming, gymnastics, rowing play out with the same excruciating intensity. Much like the vault in gymnastics, an explosive instant second where years of preparation play out in seconds alone. The point of the game here: everything is on the line just once.One error, one nanosecond hesitation, one false move and the dream disappears.

All the athletes who arrive at the Olympics stand for the best of the best and the best their country can offer in this activity. They seek to embody the Greek ideal of excellence in form, strength and performance. Leave aside the commercialism, the crassness, the sponsorships, the bloated nationalism and amid the noise and carnival, just as existed in the original Olympics, it comes down to the one athlete, one woman, one man, waiting on the starting block, intense, focus, coiled embodying years of training and work. It is the moment Olympic cameras love to catch for good reason, just as they zoom in on the ecstasy of victory and of loss.

I really admire the character and moral intensity of athletes in one shot sports. The athlete has to bring all his or her  training and life long commitment to a pinpoint of focus. They need mental and physical discipline to overcome  past failures and past successes. They must be totally present in that one moment, as Eminem advised, they need to "lose yourself." 

They need flawless visioning of the action and the ability to execute and adapt to any changed conditions at the same time. Above all they must find ways to not let the pressure and adrenaline and cortisol rushes of having everything depend upon this one chance and to being it home.

At the end of a one shot run, every Olympic athlete can mimic Vonn's screams or White's hollers; joy, triumph and release and relief. They earned them all.

1 comment:

  1. Pat - My kids are now 10, 11 and 13 and this summer are competing in the Yakima Mid-Valley Swim League which runs 9 weeks every summer. Now in their third season they have become fully engaged in the whole "one shot" nature of the race and watching their focus and determination on the blocks is something to behold as a parent.

    Everything you relate regarding character, moral intensity, focus,discipline are all things I see them learning and expressing. These attributes are seen at many levels from Olympian athelets to the Toppenish Tarpon summer swim league swimmer. These lessons will hopefully stay with the young swimmer as they become young adults and begin contributing to our society. Thank you for sharing you insight Pat. Paul Ward.