Atarnajuat, who ran naked across icy tundra for the full duration of a three hour film. Or maybe the first person to run the marathon (also naked, or was that just for the olympics?) who collpased dead immediately after finishing (to his credit, he had ran 140 miles twice in the past week).
I appear to like my athletes unclothed, which is a touch disconcerting.
The point of these legends is that these are people at the limit of human experience. I prefer these stories to the sport of modern day, but the tradition is there. The marathon is called the marathon because it’s the distance from Marathon to Athens. That messenger was the forebear of all of those people carrying rocks, wrapped in foil or dressed up as non-copyright infringing variants on popular cartoon characters. Or whatever.
Its an incredible thing to do. But I’m glad people no longer keel over at the end. Now it is considered correct to cry a bit, complain for a week, and then go round collecting money from people to give to charity. It seems reasonable, even if complaining about suffering you’ve put yourself through is a touch declassé.
It’s impressive though. Not just marathons, but the monstrous mass of human endeavour that is the world of athletics. So much time and energy put into being ‘the best’ at something. Faster, harder, stronger, better. Practice and effort. Devoting a life to running, jumping, rowing, swimming, curling, bouncing or waving ribbons around. It’s incredible, and it genuinely does show off the limits of physical ability of the human body. It’s amazing that people still find ways to run faster. Its incredible the sheer ability of these people. The strength and will.
But, honestly, I find it hard to care beyond the abstract. Conceptually, the adaptability and power of the human body is incredible, but I can’t help but think of the animals that could run faster, or swim deeper, or survive longer through more intense conditions. It’s a weird kind of cynicism, because I know its absurd and unfair, but its there in the back of my thoughts.
Sport strikes me as a little absurd. Artificial boundaries creating systems for people to comete in. Yet at the same time, I tend to find the more artificially constrained things more interesting. The slow burn tension of a curling match genuinely does (for me) beat the hyperbole, speed and explosive nature of a sprint. Trying to decode the rituals of the Madison cycling race beats watching someone throw a heavy ball really, really, really far.
I like games, but I’m not necessarily interested in feats of endurance. It’s impressive, but not interesting. I can’t engage in the same way.
Of course, this isn’t for entertainment. Its for…
I don’t really know. That’s the thing. Pushing to the limits of possibility for no reason but to prove something. There’s a macho attitude I’m not happy to engage with.
So no answer. Sorry. I just don’t see it.
Illustration by Emma