Perhaps the greatest debate in all of sport is actually what is sport.
And the Olympics seem to give some people the perfect opportunity to play the favorite armchair game: Sport or not a sport?
When the curling competition began some wondered why that earned Olympic status while women’s ski jumpers were left home, discarded from the Vancouver Games. Others, of course, always look at curling and think they could easily take up the sport and become an Olympic athlete. I have yet to try my hand at curling but I long ago realized that degrees of difficulty are by nature deceptive and hubris will always come back to bite you in the ass.
This morning, after Apolo Anton Ohno became the winningest American Winter Olympics athlete, I read chatter that short-track speed skating is a “joke,” merely roller derby on ice. Interesting that by linking it to a female endeavor makes it “not a sport” but more than that, I fail to see the validity in this argument. Isn’t going as fast as you can to beat someone else, whether it be on foot, bike, boat or ice, pretty much a primary definition of athletic competition?
And then there are the classic detractors of sports like figure skating, who say anything involving sequins is not a sport no matter how athletic the activity may be.
Surely there are other sport-not-a-sport debates which have popped up during these Olympics. Heck, even discussing taking women’s hockey out of the Olympics because the Canadian and American women are too good is a relative of this debate.
But while some people argue what is a sport as, well, a sport in itself, it’s an important discussion on some levels. It reveals how we choose to define sports and athletics and competition. It tells us who to let into the party and who gets left sitting home without an invitation. It tells us who to value, what characteristics are meaningful and which ones might be OK, but not appropriate of a true athlete.
How we culturally define sports sets the boundaries.
And while those boundaries can grow, they often don’t grow fast enough.
Individuals go against that trend every day. Sometimes they do it collectively, as a team or a group working toward things like sponsorship dollars and Olympic inclusion. Sometimes their work is purely personal — how they choose to define themselves against the backdrop of criticism, the constant murmur of “but is that really a sport?”
Those athletes are often the strongest of all. Because strength isn’t just measured physically. It’s also measured in how you stand in your authentic self, comfortable and confident, regardless of anything else that’s going on around you.