Saturday, August 09, 2008


Unlike people who have attained lives of more or less pure, and mostly clear-minded, thought, I still like the Olympics--or at least the idea of them--so I was going to try to put in a good word for them. However I came to the conclusion that putting in good words for things is perhaps not always what is called for. My main reason for liking the Olympics nowadays, apart from the various traditions and events of it that evoke appealing historical associations, is that there are a lot of healthy, attractive young women in and around it. It attracts them. People who live and work always among such beings cannot comprehend how much of the world, how much of life, does not attract them, and is devoid of their presence. The effect of this, especially in the modern physical environment, on how one views the world as far as its possessing meaning or beauty must be far stronger than is widely acknowledged.

Ethel Catherwood, "The Saskatoon Lily". Gold medal, high jump 1928 (Amsterdam). Remains to this day the only Canadian woman to win a gold medal in track and field (although it was later revealed that she was actually born in North Dakota). Was voted "prettiest athlete" of the games by one of the New York papers (this award has unfortunately been discontinued). She apparently used to sit on the infield grass in an oversized sweater when she wasn't jumping and pout dreamily with an expression of intense boredom on her face.

Swimmers, both male and female, having the best, and, formerly anyway, the most visible bodies, have tended to be considered in general the sexiest competitors. Good-looking champion swimmers, as opposed to say, good-looking champion 1500 meter runners, seem to be especially outgoing and undepressed, which makes it hard for me to relate to them. That's why I didn't put up any pictures of swimmers.

The Olympics also encourage in me the idea, which I have recently been toying with, that I ought to move to California, since so many beautiful athletes, as well as beautiful singers, beautiful chefs and winemakers, beautiful scientists, even beautiful schoolteachers and bookshop employees, are from there, along with their beautiful parents, and brothers and sisters and girlfriends. Tom Brady is from California. If Tom Brady had grown up in Massachusetts, or, God forbid, Maine or New Hampshire or Vermont, he almost certainly would not have been Tom Brady. He might not even have been Doug Flutie. Perhaps he would be a lawyer, but that is not quite the same thing as being Tom Brady. California seems to be a place where if you are a winner, your winningness is magnified to an even more glorious level than ordinary, though if you are a loser, your aura of failure likewise stands out all the more starkly. This might not be the best place for me personally, but I worry that my children, or at least one of them even, might have it in them to be winners, and winners should be where any potential greatness a person possesses has some hope of being nurtured and realized, which it doesn't appear can be accomplished around here. Of course there is still a little time to get to such places during the crucial 18-25 year range, but eighteen years of life in our village and of me as a primary mentor will probably leave them little room for error if they even try to make their way in the big time.

Lyudmila Tourischeva--Even when I was six, and watching the Montreal Olympics on television, I wondered why the American public had such terrible taste in Eastern bloc gymnasts. Olga Korbut? Nadia Commaneci? Well, if you don't have anything nice to say...I was not, to be precise, smitten with Tourischeva (may I call her Lyudmila?) at the time. I was properly terrified of anything having to do with the Soviet Union, due mostly to my encyclopedias which credited them with statistical domination over the United States in just about every category--besides the basics of raw area and population, there was the size of their army, manufacturing output, cabbage harvesting, tungsten mining, and Olympic medals to be dejected about (the Ci-Cz volume was the most reassuring in the whole set because the U.S. was actually ranked number 1 in both corn and cotton, which was a source of great satisfaction to me). Tourischeva (who in 1976, it should be pointed out, was 24 years old--her big Olympics was actually in '72) did not smile or make love to the TV cameras, and was usually described in grudging terms as highly disciplined and competent. She did not send the least signal of friendliness or accomodation to Western sensibilities, and seemed to be perfectly content to be a Communist despite being an apparently intelligent person. I assume this last is why she was not more widely admired by American sports fans. She won 4 gold medals, she was pretty good-looking in my opinion, she wasn't a child, and she emanated an aura of mental/psychological seriousness that is rare in top athletes. Needless to say, she is my all-time favorite gymnast.

I was always impressed by the British tradition that has been able to produce numerous world-class track and field athletes who also have above-average to good humanistic educations. You can go back to the Chariots of Fire guys in the 20s, to Bannister and the other outstanding Oxbridge distance runners of the 50s, Coe and Ovett in the 80s. There are numerous others I haven't mentioned. The last great athlete to emerge from this general line was the triple jumper Jonathan Edwards, who won the gold medal in 2000 and still holds the world record. He had studied physics at Durham University and his father was a vicar of the Church of England, an unusual background for an athletic champion, at least in this country. Among the other people I have mentioned, Harold Abrahams became a lawyer, Roger Bannister a doctor, Coe had studied economics and became a member of parliament. Though many American athletes have impressive academic credentials and go on to become things like Orthopaedic surgeons, they seem to have more of the super high energy, pure achievement-oriented approach to their learning than an intellectual, tradition and language-based one that appeals to me. I know these are great people who get things done and make our country what it is (better, better, better), but I find them rather boring.

Here is a brief film about Ethel Catherwood. There is a very brief clip of her smiling, or shaking her head, where you can really see what a babe she was.

If you have a glancing interest in or fascination with the bleak world of the 1960s-70s Soviet Union you might want to peak at this Russian documentary about Lyudmila Tourischeva.

One of the greatest races of all-time, at least that was won by an American. 1964 10,000 meters.

Since I can't get any sitecounter/monitor devices to work I can only count the visitors to my personal info page to get any idea if anyone has been around. 4 people visited the profile page this weekend, which is a big weekend for this site. I have no doubt that this readership constitutes a very desirable demographic too. Cosmopolitan. Attractive. Tech-savvy. Well above average but not socially stifling median IQ. Important.

No comments: