How many times have you watched a race and thought, “Boy, was he/she born to run?”, thereby giving voice to the emotional power released by the human form in fully articulated flight. Without knowing why or how, we all understand and appreciate at a visceral level the aesthetic that attends athletic excellence, an aesthetic which goes beyond simple results-oriented efficiency or effectiveness, and instead inhabits an expressive gestalt all its own.
We have all had our favorite such stylists. One of mine was the great Kenyan-born Dane Wilson Kipketer, the former 800-meter world record holder whose rapier-like form cut so cleanly though the pliant pocket of air. Another beauty was 1987 world 10,000-meter champion, the late Paul Kipkoech of Kenya, who I called “The Ambassador” for his carriage brought to mind white tie and tails, so elegant was his pure upright form.
Though athletes can improve form and function through plyometric drills and gym-work, most of how we generate force over distance comes from our physical conformation, how we are put together in this system of pulleys and levers via the hard and soft tissue of the body.
In the world of horse racing, millions of dollars are invested in the breeding for physical conformation. But as the undervalued (purchased for $35,000) I’ll Have Another goes for the first Triple Crown title in 34 years at the Belmont Stakes next week, we are reminded again that more than physical conformation goes into the creation of a champion. Beyond the talent of the form is the drive from the heart, the unquantifiable aspects of an athlete’s makeup which defy programmatic identification – think Tim Tebow in American football.
In an on-line blog about the Emotional Conformation in the equine athlete, an old, but not forgotten name from running’s past surfaced last fall in the comments section of Calvin Carter’s Classic Thoroughbred Champions. Continue reading