A different sport than what we play

August 20, 2004

More Olympics commentary.

Some of the newspaper articles at the start of the game made this point, and J made it independently while watching volleyball. The sports played in Greece during this sports festival have only a passing resemblance to the sports we play ourselves.

It can be a matter of form: the racing breaststroke is a very different movement than the recreational swimmer's breaststroke - when was the last time you lunged your head up and out of the water in order to mimic a Cheetah's body motion? The volleyball, badmitten, and other ball sports are played at a speed and intensity far removed from what you find in the average backyard.

Similarly, as I think the New York Times pointed out before the games, the motion that top level runners use while propelling themselves across the ground is both like and unlike the motion that you see from joggers in the park - different foot strike, arm motion, and hip rotation just to begin with. Top level runners are blessed with the wind and mechanics that makes it possible for them to jog at a 5:30 pace. To put that into perspective, when I was running road races I ran in the middle of the pack, generally finishing in the front third of the pack, back third of the men in their 30s. My fastest adult mile was a 6:03 in my mid 30s - just missed the 6:00 mark after training for it for a couple of months.

The mechanics, wind, and training for all these sports is both like and unlike what we do ourselves.

They start the 400 meters today, my favorite difficult pleasure. We have all run around a track, if only in grammar school. When I ran high school track I was coached to run it hard: drive into the first turn to set up a pace; come out of the second turn and try to relax while floating down the back stretch, moving fast but without pressing; lean into the third turn and begin to drive; let your momentum kick you out of the fourth turn and sprint for home. The human body is only "naturally" set up to sprint for about 300 meters, and this is a 400 meter race, so if someone has not trained correctly or has gone too fast for their training, you will see their muscles lock up in that fourth turn and it will look as if they have literally hit a wall while everyone else runs past them. The 400 is a race about guts, desire, and hard training.

Of course, at a world class level, ever since Eric Liddel in 1924, the 400 has been a simple sprint and you don't see real wall hitting or relaxed running until you move up to the 800. The 400 is still my favorite track event, even though I sucked when I raced that distance in high school.

Next time you are out running and go past an open track, detour and take a hard lap. It is a difficult pleasure, but it is a very GOOD pleasure.

Posted by Red Ted at August 20, 2004 09:49 AM | TrackBack