Great moments in personal sporting history

The collective sense of captivation that the Olympics now seems to hold and just trying to be more active on tour has made me think a bit about sports.  On the first day of tour, stopping in Columbus to pick up t-shirts, will and I played a fast game of basketball against Ryan and Austin.  We lost by a point, but it felt good to run around before getting back in the van to drive the hours to Buffalo.  My only basket was a pretty beautiful one where I moved into space around Austin, shot, and swished one through the hoop.  I played horse yesterday afternoon in a well-worn court by the sea and while we were playing it made me think about the ideas of great moments in personal sporting history.  I think that sports are a pervasive enough part of our culture that everyone has a few of these.  These are things like the time you swung high enough on the playground swingset to awe your playmates, or the time you got the 4-square bully out with the eliminator, or the time you miraculously got picked first for the kickball game.  For those who played organized sports there might actually be a goal in the big game or a sprint to the finish to outpace a rival.  Will remembered his as the time he stole home base in a little league game or the time that his proficiency at sinking 3-pointers from the corner of the court got him the respect of two girls who were total ballers at his childhood summer camp.  For me, I remember fencing in the woods with sticks with this kid I knew who was kind of a bully.  At one point, I knocked him off balance and he fell into a creek.  I ran like hell hoping to escape the repurcussions of my momentary triumph.

Sports, Race, and Imagination

I came across this article in the New York Times, A Country Feels a Hurdler’s Pain, and was at first surprised that there would be such a reaction to one runner being unable to compete.  It made more sense when I read further in the article and read this quote by the runner, China’s Liu Xiang:

“It is kind of a miracle,” Liu said. “It is unbelievable — a Chinese, an Asian, has won this event. It is a proud moment not only for China but for Asia and all people who share the same yellow skin color.”

“Please pay attention to Chinese track and field,” he said. “I think we Chinese can unleash a yellow tornado on the world.”

and the accompanying commentary:

Please note these are not the ravings of a Western journalist. These are the words of Liu — reasonable enough, since he had just become the first Chinese male ever to win a gold medal in Olympic track and field.

This was not some foolish boast of racial superiority, just an assertion of standing tall against the world. Liu was suggesting that a Chinese man could reach the level of Rafael Nadal of tennis or Kobe Bryant of basketball or Ronaldinho of football or Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, who sprang from other continents.

I can see why the prospect of a Champion Chinese sprinter would be a big deal.  I loved sports as a kid, but of all of the heroes of Ohio Sports at the time Bernie Kosar, Mark Price, and countless baseball players whose names now escape me – none of them were Asian, looked like me, or my father, or my paternal relatives.  I think it’s hard with institutions, like pro sports, that seem so important, to feel like you don’t really have a place in this world.  This is connected to ideas of masculinity too and a global event like the Olympics and the things that people invest in it make me think about the possibility of a  globalized masculine ideal.  To be sure there are many talented, respected, championed Asian athletes.  However, none come to mind that rise to the top in the contests that seem to define a certain ideal of manhood – absolute strength and speed.

For a long time I’ve wanted to interview my friends who are Asian about their experience, because it’s something that doesn’t seem to have much space to be discussed otherwise.  I’ve only gotten to interview one friend so far, and the thing that surprised me the most when he spoke about his experience of being Asian in a small Indiana town was that what defined his sense of difference was size.  He was just smaller than most of his other male peers.  In retrospect, this was important to me too.  One way of being a boy, one centered around strength and power and physical presence just felt closed to me.  This is probably for the best, and I should feel glad that I managed to find things that gave me attention, that garnered respect, that made me feel like an expert, chances to lead or make decisions, all the subconscious expectations that are important to many people, but that I have always felt were tied to maleness.  I can still remember that sinking feeling though, of surveying the territory and hearing the hum of voices insisting, “this is not for you.”