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Posts Tagged ‘Invictus’

“The Pulverizing Tedium” of Christopher Hitchens’s Rant

March 4th, 2010 1 comment

Warning: Here comes some negative eye candy, an avert-your-eyes pic of Christopher Hitchens. He’s guy who took off on a flight of anger against all things sport, using the just-concluded Winter Olympics as the excuse for his rant:

christopher hitchens getting a brazilian wax

Perhaps the screed would have more stick had it come from someone who understood the first thing about the rush that exercise and competition can provide the body and (yes!) the soul. Surely Christopher Hitchens is aware of the compelling body of evidence linking physical activity and fitness to health and even to mental acuity, but that didn’t blunt his clumsy attack — a broadside launched against sports writing (and reading), poor sportsmanship and downright cheating, the sports themselves, and blah blah blah, in the usual, and by now wearily predictable, Hitchens style.

So let’s see: Here’s a guy for whom fitness is far, far, down on his list (although for some reason he feels the need to strip his body of evidence-concealing body hair), thundering against anything sports-related that popped into his head, and concluding with a condemnation of the “pulverizing tedium” of the Olympic events themselves. He wrote that he couldn’t escape the events, but why? Is it that hard to stay out of bars for a few weeks? I don’t believe that he actually did see much of the competition; had he put down his poison pen for a few moments, he would  have witnessed some stuff that only the most curmudgeonly among us could call tedious. Here I’m thinking of the conclusion of the fifty-kilometer, cross-country ski race, where the exhausted, close-to-truly amateur competitors managed to sprint up a final hill toward the finish before collapsing in complete exhaustion; and of the gold-medal hockey games between the US and Canada, the men’s version of which was extended dramatically into OT1 on a goal with scant seconds remaining, before being won by the host team.

Of course, his article contains many truths among its efforts to explain away inconvenient counterexamples, notably the events that inspired Invictus, a case for the other side he would have been better off conceding. But Hitchens doesn’t do nuance or complexity.

What he misses, colossally, is this: There’s something vital about sports, and for those of us who struggle to rise above our own mediocrity in engaging in them, something transcendent about witnessing — yes, even cheering — those who have attained mastery over such difficult and challenging tasks. Such mastery eludes almost all of us. It’s certainly harder than writing angry, blunderbuss polemics against sports. That, in turn, is much harder than reading or writing sports, according to Hitchens. The adults, he snoots, prefer the rest of the paper.

Look, people get their emotional rushes in different ways. Some exult in their proofs against the existence of God (here are some excerpts from Hitchens’s influential book, “God is Not Great”), others in success by their favorite sports figures or teams. It doesn’t mean they apply this same “us v. them” logic to politics, or that sport assumes an unhealthy fixation for them (although that’s certainly the case for some). But no part of the opposing case is in evidence in Hitchens’s windy article.

Being a provocateur is easy, really, and clever in its way: Even by responding, one has taken the bait — been provoked enough to respond. That’s a desirable outcome in the case of arguments for or against, say, the existence of God, because it’s one or the other. A bright provocateur can get the interest, the juices, flowing. But most of life doesn’t operate according to a binary yes-no principle, and “‘The Case Against’ This or That” would be stronger if it acknowledged its own weaknesses. Otherwise, case dismissed.

  1. That’s “overtime,” for the proudly sports illiterate.

Federer and Hingis in 2012?

December 10th, 2009 No comments

During the 2008 Summer Olympics, I became convinced of two things: (1) Tennis really does belong in the Olympics1; and (2) It’s a shame that they don’t offer mixed doubles. My “mixed doubles” wish has just come true. Starting right away — the 2012 Games in London — mixed doubles is part of the program. Why should you care? After all, tennis broadcast eminence Mary Carillo has referred to mixed doubles as “the funny cars” of tennis — as Jon Wertheim stated in that same linked story, it’s “nothing to be taken seriously.”

Not outside of the Olympics, anyway. But placing mixed doubles in the Olympics will make people, especially the competitors, take it seriously. Even Roger Federer, who almost never plays doubles, was overcome with joy at winning the gold medal in men’s doubles in 2008. (See video at end of post.) Funny cars will become a source of soul-stirring, nationalistic inspiration.

Also: Funny cars or not, tennis is the only sport besides badminton (which is more exciting than you think) where women compete head-to-head with men. (Other Olympic sports where women and men are in the running for same set of medals, such as pairs ice dancing and equestrian, involve serial performances. In sailing, men and women do race at the same time, but…who cares?)

The Olympics have a global audience, and thus a chance to bring visibility and respect to women in places where their status is, shall we say, less than equal to that of males. It won’t solve anything, but it can’t hurt. Sports are surprisingly powerful, as Nelson Mandela demonstrated. (Here are some early reviews from the new Clint Eastwood flick Invictus (out tomorrow), that chronicles Mandela’s use of rugby-fever to unite South Africa shortly after his election.)

One more thing: This may inspire twice-retired (but still young) Martina Hingis to emerge from the shadows one more time, for the chance to play mixed doubles with Federer. I bet he’d be eager for the chance to team up with the smartest player ever to set foot on the court (although hardly the most powerful). They’d be unbeatable.

  1. Watch this weird video (and listen to accompanying song) to get a sense of how much victory means, even to someone like Federer.