Sunday, June 5, 2011

And you say this is sport?

During the Winter Olympics a few years ago, I recall one of the women skiers on Team USA going to watch the qualifying performances of Ice Dancing --  when each and every pair performs the same choreography that's been used for decades with everyone using same piece of music -- and marching out, declaring in annoyance, "This is not sport!"  Yet this was the Olympics and the ice dancers were, like the skiers and the snowboarders, in supreme physical condition, performing at a world-class level, except they were doing it to music.

The same could be said of the figure skating singles and pairs -- that what they did was simply not sport.  In the Summer Olympics, synchronized swimming might be called into question as it is for women only, the performance begins the moment they are introduced,  and even their approach to the pool is judged.  These women are athletes in supreme physical condition, performing at a world-class level to music.

And then there is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing or NASCAR.

People are insane about NASCAR which is a bunch of people who seem in pretty good shape racing around and around a track for a long period of time.  There is also Formula One racing where, again, people in cars are going around a track many times for long periods of time.  People love Formula One too but they love NASCAR most.  What's the difference between the two?

Formula One (F1) is open-wheel racing which means the cars' wheels are open, i.e. not covered by the skin of a vehicle. It's driven by technology with manufacturers spending time and money to make their cars faster than the others. The courses are generally road courses, meaning the course consists of left and right turns as well as straightaways.  This is good reasoning for races on courses made of blocked off city streets, like the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.  F1 races go regardless of weather and are held all over the world.

NASCAR is stock-car racing which means the cars are based on current-production 4-door sedans from Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, and Toyota.  The cars use older, existing technology and emulate hot rods.  With NASCAR, the car is taken and modified to, fingers crossed, beat the others, meeting certain NASCAR standards and rules.  There are different racetracks but most are oval with variations on the oval theme -- ovoid, tri-ovoid, quad-ovoid -- plus rectangular, triangular, and even egg-shaped (which is, dare I say, ovoid) -- and, twice each season, they race on actual roads.  The oval tracks are FURTHER categorized by length:  short tracks, intermediate, and super speedways, all with varying degrees of banking which contribute to attainable speeds.  If it rains, the race is called and nowhere but here in the USA are there NASCAR races.

NASCAR is thought more exciting than F1 because of the crashes and the potential for crashes but F1 is considered the highest class of auto racing in the world.  Both are a bunch of people in expensive cars on some sort of track at high speeds hoping to pass each other and win.

For me, sport boils down to the triumph of person over the physical self in conjunction with an external apparatus that is powered by strength, talent, years of training, stamina, and the determination of the athlete using the established guidlines of a governing body.  Cars are powered by gas and/or racing fuel.  People sit in said cars and manipulate them, i.e. drive.  They do nothing but drive them.  Yes, it gets hot and unpleasant in the car.  Yes, there are certainly governing bodies. The races last for hours and the drivers don't have nice air conditioning like we might have in our cars and a race requires rigorous attention to detail, stamina, rugged determination, years of experience, and ability and is a triumph of person over other persons similarly outfitted, i.e. other people in well maintained cars who like going fast and winning.

Watching a bunch of people zip around a track in a car much like their own seems like vicarious couch-potato driving.  I have to think some people leaving a NASCAR race drive like sons of guns to prove their own driving worth to their passengers and, of course, to themselves.  Those people probably are sons of guns behind the wheel regardless, like at an outlet mall at dinnertime when their wives made them go shopping and the only way they can demonstrate their self worth is by driving like sons of guns as they leave the parking lot often including the Offering of the Single Digit.

NASCAR, with its sound like a million bumble bees harnessed under each car hood is, yes, a sport for most people, even though I just don't get it (it's entertainment but the more burly among you might take exception to this description).  Why would you want to sit in front of a TV and watch a bunch of people a thousand miles away propel a car around an oval?  I'm just askin'; don't take offense.  Gee, you are so testy.


Photo courtesy of OK! Magazine

I neglected to report that Hines Ward and his professional partner, Kym Johnson, won the Mirrorball Trophy on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" on May 24th.  Kirstie Alley and her partner, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, came in second place, and Chelsea Kane and partner Mark Ballas were third.  Congratulations to Hines and Kym but I will admit I would have been been satisfied if Kirstie Alley had been victorious.  At age 60 and very large indeed, Kirstie Alley danced her ass off in every way.  I've not read how much weight she lost, but she lost 38 inches overall.  She also made Maks smile and Maks never smiles, not ever.  My theory is when he set eyes on his newest partner, he thought, "We are so gonna lose so we might as well have fun," then relaxed.  Kirstie is bright and funny, and after years in show business she knows how to be focused and work on a performance.  Having had starring roles on at least two sitcoms, she knows how to work with an artistic temperament.  Kirstie and Maks were a very enjoyable pairing.  What great lessons she gave to women who are neither young nor skinny:  Don't give up; work through your physical self; things can be accomplished with determination, a good teacher, and brains; you don't have to be young and reed thin to win everyone's admiration.

Might we agree that if NASCAR is a sport, then ballroom dancing is, too?  I'm just askin'; don't take offense.  Gee, you are so testy.

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