Olympic Love

Imageby John Schrup

Every four years, I get a hard-core case of nostalgia.  Bad.  1976 all over again.  That was the first year I watched the summer Olympics.  That I can remember, anyway.  I might have watched Munich, but I’d have been only two.  And at that time, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t too keen on things that would leave conscious memory.  But I do remember watching Montreal.  I remember lying in bed with my mother and my sister, in the bedroom upstairs, watching swimming.  I remember it was swimming because I thought the swimsuits looked like superhero costumes, the stars and stripes.  My mother loved to watch the Olympics.  It was the only time she was really ever interested in sports that did not directly involve her children.  So perhaps from her I got the bug, the love for sport.
The Olympics then were much different than they are today.  Everything about the Olympics today is much more polished, marketed, professional, shiny.  Then, as I remember it, the athletes seemed smaller, less rock star, more recognizable as someone I might know from down the street.  Today, they are superheroes, grand in stature and presence, manufactured to please our (and sponsor) ideals.  To sell the Games, the human interest stories are much more important.  When an athlete struggles to make ends meet, or to fund his or her training; sleeps in less than luxurious quarters or eats out of cans, or trains in rudimentary settings, we see it as kind of exotic or foreign.  But when we also learn of the athlete who has access to wind tunnels, personal nutritionists, massage therapists, psychologists, different physios for this or that, we get all excited and impressed.  Which one do you identify with, or would want to emulate.
I think of Frank Shorter, forgoing the life of a lawyer, running through the sage in Taos or in the streets of Boulder, identifying with the solitude of the endurance athlete, before there were millions of dollars to be made by winning, before it was a business.  When I go home to visit, and I’m running through the sage, that’s what I think about.
And then I think about Galen Rupp, who since high school, has had available to him the finest in coaching, nutritional and medical assistance.  Brought up like a Prince of Athletics, the next Lama; the pedestal prepared and waiting for his arrival.  Undeniably, he works as hard as those before him.   I’m not going to say he hasn’t.  Nothing has been handed to him, other than access to the attendant professional support that the athletes these days have.
We love the blue collar stories.  Whatever that means.  We love the stories of the woman who works at, I don’t know, Home Depot or some shit so her daughter can have food and a baby sitter while she goes out and runs 100 miles a week to prepare for the marathon.  Or the guy who teaches high school kids from 8-4 every day, coaches the cross country team and often has to run with the students in order to get in enough time on his feet, training-wise.
Perhaps we have identified those stories as the last vestiges of the true amateur athlete.  To me, the amateur does what he or she does because of an inherent love for it.  But it seems that the word “amateur” is more of a derogatory term than anything.  What an amateur!  My how things have changed.
Even we hobby runners, or whateverthefuck we are, are now professionals, or at least try to act like it.  We have GPS watches that give us our real time speed and distance, which we record to the hundredth of a mile.  We get massages every week.  We have nutritionists tell us exactly what to eat— in percentages of macro-and micronutrients—so that we can fortify ourselves properly to better absorb the workouts our strength trainers heap on us.  We go to yoga, do P90X, use expensive recovery drinks with a 3 to 1 protein to carbohydrate ratio, or whatever it is that’s in vogue right now.  We do all these things, these things that really do help to make us a better runner, marathoner, athlete, whatever.
But then we cut short our medium long run so we can have cocktails with our friends.  And then when we miss our BQ by 47 seconds we add another strength class, or eat Paleo, or do our warmup jog around Zilker barefoot, or add another hurdle drill.  But we still cut our MLR short, because the boys are all going out to the Salt Lick.  Or it is too hot, or too cold.  I’ve had people ask to do the workout the next day because the Garmin was accidentally left at home.  I know.  Seriously.
So we’ve adopted the professional aspect of the sport, but seem to lack the amateur love for it.  With the Olympics upon us, I was reminded of this and wondered about my own love for the sport.  I remember that every run I did as a kid, beginning when I was nine, was nothing more than a vehicle for a daydream.  I couldn’t wait for school to get out so I could come home and lace up my shoes and run loops in the neighborhood.
Later, when I was much older, I became obsessed with logging calories, with noting exact mileage (this was well before personal GPS), times, splits, calories.  And somewhere along the line, probably at about that time, I lost the love for it.  It wasn’t the same.  It became an identification of myself, a validation maybe.  It become wholly encompassing, yet it really wasn’t that enjoyable.  Yeah, I got the rush, the endorphins, but I didn’t get the euphoric high any longer.  I remember having them as a kid, racing along the greenbelt between my house and the elementary school, knowing I was running the four mile loop faster than I ever had, but feeling no real effort, no ground beneath my feet.  And then it was gone.
It didn’t return until many years later, after the turn of the millennium, after watching the marathoners course the streets of Athens.  There was a sort of rebirth of the love not long after that.  The daydreams are back.  Even the most godawful run—that run that feels so heavy, so laborious, that never seems to end—leaves me a bit more relaxed when I finish.  The heat isn’t as hot any more.  I don’t wear a GPS, and I rarely know what pace I’m running.  It doesn’t matter.  Fast is fast, and sometimes it isn’t.  And since those Games, I have got the high enough times that I cannot remember all of them.  And each time, I’m running with Frank Shorter on the mesa outside Taos, crisscrossing the trails, no matter where I am.   I love the Olympics.


2 thoughts on “Olympic Love

  1. Pingback: I Want You to Bonk! | The Rundown

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