I mentioned a few posts ago that the reason we watch the Olympics is to see athletes perform feats we could never dream of doing, and feel awe.
I forgot the other reason we watch: to see perfect physical specimens.
Given that sports are in large part a testosterone contest for both men and women, one would expect to see fewer ideal examples of feminine beauty at the Olympics. And it's true, you do see a lot of mannish women there.
Track and field is, at it highest levels, a sport of freaks, for both men and women. One would never mistake the unnaturally well muscled 100 meter runners for marathoners. As a matter of fact, one would rarely even mistake them for 400 meter runners. And one would certainly never confuse the monstrous shot putters or discus throwers for any sort of runners.
Watching the women's 1500 meter run yesterday reminded me of a conclusion I came to after watching the world track and field championships in Seville in 1999: the sweet spot for women runners is generally the 800 or 1500.
The 100 and 200 runners are generally far too muscular to be attractive in any sort of traditional feminine way. (Alysson Felix is an exception.) The distance runners, from the 5000 on up to the marathon, tend to be stick figures, almost anorexic-looking. But the 800 and 1500 runners are often quite pretty, with rumps and legs which are pretty close to the feminine ideal.
Occasionally you'll get an 800 runner who looks as if she's on steroids, like Jarmila Kratochvilova, who set the current world record back in 1983. But watch any world class 800 or 1500 field, and there will always be one or two runners -- usually not the medalists -- who look as if they could be fashion models.
Here are two views of Lucia Klocova, who got eighth place in the 1500 yesterday:
Ekaterina Kostetskaya of Russia ended up in ninth place in the same race:
For men, the pole vaulters and decathletes tend to have ideal builds. There's pretty much not a single competitor in either event who isn't close to the masculine ideal. All evoke those original Greek statues.
Here's Bjorn Otto of Germany, who won the silver medal in that event yesterday:
The decathletes have to balance the power needed to put the shot and throw the discus with the litheness required to run and jump. And they need endurance for both the 400 or 1500. Here are yesterday's three medal winners after they finished the 1500, the last event:
If you're going to pursue a sport, you might as well pick one which is going to make you look good.