The Olympic Games are often billed as a celebration of the world's greatest athletes. But what has become evident to me is that maybe we need to redefine the word 'athlete'.
Most of those I see walking around the Olympic Village are far from what one would typically label an athlete.
I was in the Village weight room the other day with a few of the US women bobsledders. There are two Olympic-lifting platforms sitting side by side. On the left, was American pilot Elana Meyers. On the right, was a couple of female French ski-jumpers. Weighing all of about 90lbs between them, the ski-jumpers had 50k on the bar, and were doing 1/4 squats...feet rolling in, knees almost touching, hips sliding forward, coaches looking on approvingly. Elana was doing a full-squat triple at 160k.
Got me thinking - I'm sure these French girls have terrific athletic ability, as do the vast majority of these 'X-Games-sport' participants. But it really challenges the traditional definition of what an athlete is. Or for that matter - what one looks like.
(I understand that sport is about celebrating all athletes, all shapes and sizes, with many differing physical capacities, but, at the very least can't we look athletic? i.e. lean, muscular, coordinated, etc...)
In Ancient Greece, art and sport were seen as perfect bed-fellows...the ideal was to achieve harmony by exercising both the body and the mind. The modern Olympic Games - as defined by Baron Pierre de Coubertin - was originally proposed to include these ideals. On de Coubertin's instructions, architecture, sculpture, painting, literature, and music competitions were all part of the Olympic program. This continued through the 1948 Games, but have since been completely separate from the sporting event.
By including activities that have a far more artistic element to them, perhaps we have just retuned to these original ideals? Ice dancing, slope-style, and the half-pipe, for example, are far more reminiscent of art than what we would traditionally think of as 'sport'.
So following that logic, when do we add ballet to the Olympics?
Clearly, these are athletic individuals of the highest order. Just as clearly fulfilling an artistic component. I would in fact argue that professional ballet dancers are far more ‘athletic’ than your typical snowboarder. So why no ballet in the Olympic Games?
...and this is where we get to the real reason why the 'X-Games-sports' are here: and it has very little to do with the IOC returning to their roots.
I know - big shocker!
Anyone interested in a USA-Russia battle of Swan Lake? Didn't think so...
But does any of the preceding really even matter? I mean - I enjoy watching these 'sports' as much as the next guy...but the question remains: do we need to redefine what an athlete is? Or what a sport is?
Or does that even matter?
Maybe we should just enjoy it for what it is - skillful, artistic, athletic, emotional, passionate.