MIND OVER MATTER

Foot racing is both a simple and complex proposition.  Simple in the sense of one foot in front of another from a set starting point to a fixed finish line, first in wins.  Yet it is also a complex set of physical, emotional, and psychological interactions, both within the individual athlete and externally among opponents, that produces the outcome.

When asked about a racing effort, Kenyan athletes will often say, “my body did not (or did) respond” in explaining their experience.  To some, this comes across as oddly detached.  What do you mean, “ my body didn’t respond?  Why not just say “I didn’t perform?”

Maybe it’s a simple as language, say, the way American English and British English differ in terms like bonnet (in the U.S. it’s a woman’s hat, for the Brits, the hood of a car).  But it’s more than that.

I have found that for Kenyan athletes, me, my body, and my performance are all quite distinctive, in the same sense that an opera singer sees his/her voice as a distinctive instrument rather than an extension of self. Though contained within, it is not one and the same as that which constitutes ME. 

This distinction mirrors Rene Descartes’ philosophy of “mind-body dualism” that argues that the nature of the mind is completely different from that of the body, and therefore it is possible for one to exist outside the context of the other. In racing terms, it is one thing to come up with a race strategy and quite another to successfully carry it out. Therefore, “my body did/did not respond” perfectly explains this duality.

This argument also gives rise to the famous problem of mind-body causal interaction which remains a hot topic of debate.  Since the mind is the cause agent for the body’s functions – right let, left leg, breathe in, breathe out – how can the body cause sensations in the mind when their natures are completely different?  To which runners might answer, ever hear of endorphins?

Yes, there are times when your legs actually tell you what to do, almost like they had a mind of their own.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does the feeling is that of riding on auto pilot, what athletes call being “in the zone”, or “flow state“. 

We bring all that we are – mind and body – to the race course, and what we produce on the day sometimes works in unanimity, and other times does not.  Meaning all we can manage is the effort and the response to competition. For the most part, the mind is the willful agency as we push our sorry ass forward despite the discomfort being experienced by the body.  It is a learned response, this willful act that makes the body to perform beyond its base intentions. This is how champions are decided and individual moments of grace are achieved on race day.

Here’s hoping everyone gets to experience being “in the zone” sometime this summer. 

END

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WHAT IF WORLD CUP…

As I watch World Cup quarterfinal action from Russia, I can’t help but think how well an American team comprised of all the great NFL slot receivers or running backs, or someone like Julio Jones the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver, would do – given that they grew up playing futbol instead of American football.

Or think if you put NBA center Anthony Davis in goal? Imagine trying to score on that level of athleticism in that outsized body. 

I suggested the same thing before regarding athletics, in that the very best athletes in the USA don’t play futbol as they do in almost every other nation except China, which is also missing from World Cup action.  (more…)

HEY, USAIN

Usain’s team Stromsgodset lost 1-0 

In this year, with no Olympics or World Championships on the calendar, athletics is reshuffling its deck seeking the new face-of-the-sport to replace Usain Bolt who retired last year as the world record holder in both the 100 and 200 meters.

Retirement finds the Jamaican superstar sprinter continuing his long sought dream to play pro futbol, stating in 2016 that his dream was to play for Manchester United. Last month the 31 year-old Jamaican played 20 minutes for Norwegian team Stromsgodset in a friendly against Norway U19s.

But could there be something more that Usain Bolt could do for his old sport of athletics with his outsized persona and abundant free time after his futbol itch has even scratched? (more…)

CASTER SEMENYA TO CHALLENGE IAAF CLASSIFICATION RULE

Semenya has been making it look easy

There’s almost no way to address the issue of hyperandrogenism in sport today in a coldly clinical manner.  The politics of gender identification remain too sensitive, too complex.  Yet the issue is in the spotlight once again, as legal representatives of two-time Olympic and three-time World 800-meter champion Caster Semenya of South Africa prepare to challenge a female classification rule imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF)  before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland today.

The IAAF rule, established in April 2018, and scheduled to be enforced beginning this November, will require female runners with naturally high testosterone levels to either race against men, or change events unless they take medication to reduce their testosterone levels.  The ruling will involve athletes in events ranging from 400-meters to the mile.

In what amounts to an amicus brief, South African law professor Steve Cornelius resigned from the IAAF disciplinary tribunal on May 1st to protest the IAAF classification rule. Professor Cornelius, who was appointed to the IAAF tribunal late last year, wrote that he could not in good conscience continue to associate himself with “an organization that insists on ostracizing certain individuals, all of them female, for no reason other than being what they were born to be.”

27-year-old Caster Semenya has been dogged by the gender controversy since she won her first of three 800-meter world titles in Berlin 2009 as a teenager while winning competitions with noticeable ease for the last several years.  She is currently on a 24-finals win streak in the 800, with her last loss in her specialty coming in Berlin in September 2015. She spoke out against the IAAF classification rule through her legal representatives at the Norton Rose Fulbright law firm, saying “I just want to run naturally, the way I was born. It is not fair that I am told I must change. It is not fair that people question who I am. I am Mokgadi Caster Semenya. I am a woman and I am fast.” (more…)

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

It’s said you can tell what a society values most by ts skylines. Through much of history, it was the steeple of the local church that pricked the sky above any other edifice, giving living testament to the role of faith and the religion in the lives of the people. So, too, did the imposing castles of kings and their feudal lords speak power to the peasants who toiled in their service.  Then, with the arrival of the American experiment in self-rule, we began to see the majestic state capitals rising as cathedrals of civic pride. And with the coming of the industrial age and its vast commercial fortunes, towers of brick, then glass and steel sprang up in urban centers to reflect that wealth, bearing witness to the rank that commerce now held in modern society. To witness the order in one place, visit Salt Lake City, Utah where the sacred, the secular, and the governmental stand in close ordered ranks beside one another.

Today, it’s cathedrals of sport that burst with devotion, even as the teams are comprised of free agents selling their talents to the highest bidder.

While the Coliseum in Rome still stands some 2000 years after its erection, modern-day stadia seem to come and go like castles of sand. Remember the Astrodome in Houston, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world? Construction began in 1962, and it officially opened in 1965, home to the Houston Astros until 1999, and to the NFL Houston Oilers from 1968 until 1996.  But by the 1990s, the Astrodome was considered past its prime.  Today, NRG Stadium is the major stadium in Houston while the Astrodome was mothballed onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The same out with the relatively old, in with the brand spanking new can be seen with ballparks in Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, San Francisco, and San Diego among others.

These days up to $2 billion is spent to erect houses for games, even as the infrastructure of our cities – roads, bridges, schools, tunnels, and airports – continues to crumble because of lack of funding. We have indeed become a society with its priorities turned upside down. (more…)

HOT CARS ON A COOL EVENING IN OREBRO

Late on a soft summer’s evening in June 1985, we arrived in the town of Örebro, Sweden a little over halfway between Oslo and Stockholm as we followed the European track circuit on its Scandinavian swing.  As we made our way toward the town square, the full-throated rumble of gas-guzzling twin carbs incongruously came bullying through the centuries-old town like thunder in the drums of the ears.

Muscle cars in the land of the fair and reserved?

Even as the young and elderly with real travel purpose pedaled their bicycles in upright indifference along the swept-clean curbs, down the middle of the road came Swedish Graffiti riding atop Detroit mag wheels. We watched in wonder as raked roofs on deuce coups smacked hard along the cultural cusp.

One block up the squeal of wide-track rubber stabbed the night air as a 1966 396 El Camino breached a traffic signal’s command.  Chevys, Plymouths, Pontiacs, and Buicks, all from the 1960s and `70s, roared by, resembling escaped road warriors from a California time capsule.

Orebro Castle

Glass-packed bellowing blanketed the silence of a hollow ride to nowhere as kids rode relentlessly around the same blocks, changing the same gears, flashing past the same Orebro Castle sitting in the center of its moat since 1200. The circle constricted as their pace increased.

Their future was now. Don’t think, react.  Perhaps it was a good lesson for those racing on foot on the track, as well.

Tomorrow we would depart, continuing on to Stockholm for the DN Galan meet staged in the 1912 Olympic track, while the boys of Orebro would fill their tanks and cruise their narrow streets once again, not realizing that theirs would be the last generation of cars from America that would afford them the horsepower which, till now, had been their only escape.

END

WINNERS

A newly-wedded friend recently traveled to his bride’s out-of-town family christening, a conclave that he couldn’t have been dragged to in any of his pre-wedded years had the combination of free money and easy nubility been offered.  In other words, the guy had proven himself capable of compromise and emotional growth.

Another friend, on the other hand, remained stunted beneath a thick layer of emotional silt.  So when his girlfriend asked him to join her at a family wedding, he parried, “you don’t want me to go, you want who you want me to be to go.”

See, that’s how it works.  So there’s a lot to dredge up from that fetid moat of childhood angst when searching for the cause of our myriad maledictions, malfeasances, and misalignments.  Of course, speaking for myself, I’m now wearing orthotics, so I’ve got that alignment thing on the right track.

But it has become vogue, this cathartic hip-wade through the fetid pools of formative experience in search of any and all trauma – real and imagined – with which to absolve our adult transgressions and their teared-stained consequences.  Yeah, it can’t possibly be me, could it?  Had to be someone else who caused my gibbery-assed condition.  Why be master of my own domain – in the non-Seinfeldian sense – when I can put the blame on somebody else?

(“Cough, cough.  Mommy?  Daddy?  I can’t see you.  Are you there?  It’s dark.”)

This superego search for release has not only stirred up the indelicacies once interred beneath the open-air temple of free will but also caused a brackish light to be cast through our rectory of subsequent responsibility. (more…)