Letters to Cyclingnews April 10, 2001
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Our discussion of the nature of sport continues to generate a broad and fascinating range of opinion. Hugh Howard points out that the criteria for inclusion in the Olympics are rather more complicated than 'as hard or harder than cycling'. Self-confessed 'obnoxious loner' Mark Combs has some amusing parallels between arena-contact sports and cycling, while Keith Burgess-Jackson, an actual working philosopher, has the issue pretty much sewn up with some carefully framed definitions.
Regis Chapman clarifies his earlier comments, while John Lieswyn wants to see apples compared to apples in the comparison between golf and cycling. Rob Ransom has an apposite quote and, finally, Andrew Torrance has a suggestion for our next philosophical discussion. I was thinking maybe we should tackle the Darwinian origins of moral behaviour, or the nature of consciousness.
On the subject of women's cycling, Kate Rowe has a point about women's preparation that tallies with something I was once told by a woman racer. Her coach had instructed her not to train at distances greater than she raced.
After the bike failures in the Tour of Flanders, Woyteck Morajko is rather aghast that these superlight bikes are widely available.
Kathryn Olson writes to praise Sabine Sunderland's pics from Flanders.
Finally, Phil Siena is trying to contact Richard Virenque and John Leitch wants to get hold of Christophe Bassons. If anyone has contact details for these riders, please let us know and we'll pass them on.
Tyler Ellis seems to be saying that all activities that are sports and are harder than cycling are or should be a part of Olympic competition. This is not the criterion used for choosing activities as a part of Olympic competition. Actually, the methods for including a given activity in Olympic competition are rather complex.
On the "what is sport " question more broadly, it has been long noted by philosophers of language that there are in fact vague terms in all languages. "Game" and "sport" are two such words. If any interest exists I can refer certain works for consideration over these and other vague terms. To continue to debate over what is and is not sport by brief refutation and assertion on the part of many writers is indeed interesting but the complexity of the question is often underestimated and under analysed by such brief rejoinders.
I wish to congratulate Dan Bailey for his insightful review of arena sports.
The reason athletes get hurt is quite simple, you are paid to win. Face it, in any sport, you start losing, you get cut from the team and/or sponsorships dry up real fast.
Pain is the currency. While I was raised watching and at times attempting to play American football, you have to have the ability to give and take pain. Cycling certainly has that.
For example, a defensive lineman's job is to crush the guy with the ball. In fact, the ball carrier is supposed to go home and have nightmares about going on your side of the field. That's called fear and respect. You get these qualities by inflicting biblical amounts of pain on your opponent. In order to have this level of fitness, you have to train very, very hard. This training hurts.
Look at any great cyclist. Look at their faces on a giant climb, my friends, that's suffering and that person had to hurt so they could hurt others. Very simple. Your opponent will see this and sooner or later they will reach 2 possible conclusions:
1) The person I am competing against is a sado-masochist and any attempt to hurt them will merely result in a larger whipping of myself. I wonder how hard they trained?
2) The person I am competing against is a freak on a leash and I want my mommy. Is this race/game going to be over soon?
With all due respect to your letter writers, they are going around in circles. What is wrong with the classification scheme, proposed by A. Bartlett Giamatti, the former classical scholar, president of Yale University, and Commissioner of Major League Baseball? In his book, Take Time for Paradise, Giamatti distinguished two types of play: spontaneous and organized. He called the latter a "game". An example of spontaneous play would be children playing in the dirt with trucks.
Within the class of games, so understood, Giamatti distinguished those that are competitive, which he called "contests", and those which are noncompetitive. An example of the latter would be solitaire (a card game).
Within the class of contests (that is, competitive games), Giamatti distinguished those that are intellectual and those that are physical. The latter he called "sport". An example of an intellectual contest is chess or checkers.
So sport, to Giamatti, is organized, competitive, physical play. If this is correct, then the only question to be addressed is whether golf belongs on the intellectual side of the line or on the physical side. In other words, how physical does a contest have to be to constitute sport? I believe that golf is a hard or borderline case (which would explain why so many reasonable people disagree about it). Clear cases of sport include bicycle racing, baseball, and soccer.
Keith Burgess-Jackson, philosopher in residence
In response to Dan Bailey's letter, I should clarify. I did not man to say that other sports don't hurt. Rather, I mean to say cycling is not a contact sport like martial arts, boxing, or football. A key to success in those sports is to intentionally make contact to prevent someone else from getting the ball, or simply to incapacitate the other person. I am sure some sprinters and keirin riders would take issue with this view, however.
It's also why I like table tennis, and why I didn't continue with my tae kwon do training.
Douglas Reynolds writes: "any dolt can get on a bike and pedal around the block or city without a lesson, but can any dolt finish 18 holes of golf on a championship course without any instruction?"
The question is comparing apples to oranges. 18 holes of golf on a championship course should be compared to say 100 miles racing against category 4 racers, which "any dolt" could not possibly complete. If you wish to compare pedalling around the block or city to golf, I would venture to say that swinging the club at the driving range would be the equivalent. Any dolt can swing a club!
At the Winter Olympics in 1994, an American athlete made the following comment about the U.S. curling team. It seems to capture the essence of what we are describing in regard to what is sport:
"If you can smoke a cigarette while you're doing it, it ain't a sport."
After defining sport , can we move onto Art ?
Torrance Andrew, UK
The reason that women's races are shorter is because those in power (male officials) deem that women can't go longer distances. Remember how women weren't allowed to do marathons for the same reason, and how in swimming the 1500 metres is deemed too long?
If that kind of attitude got changed, you would see women doing the same preparation.
Wait a minute! Wait just one minute, please! While reading the Post-race comments from 9th April I noticed that both Bortolami and Peers had their bikes "broke in two"! And, of course, punctures galore!
Some of us see this as a PROBLEM! Cycling magazines are full of adds for racing frames that are 2.5 pounds (or Less!) and tires under 23mm. Should frames that brake in races in less then 20 km be available to the general public?
Count me out! I'll stick to my "way-too-heavy" touring bike and "way-to-big" 37mm tires. At least I can go down the road without worrying about the frame suddenly folding in half and tires that go flat at the site of any junk!
Sabine Sunderland's pictures are wonderful! She has fine talent and great skills for capturing the shots of the fast moving cyclists.
Does anyone know an email address that one could use to contact Richard Virenque, either directly or indirectly? His fan based web site hasn't been updated in eons (and is pretty lame anyway). How about his manager (Boyer)? Maybe that's the route to take. Any info would be appreciated.
Can anyone help me with an e-mail or contact number for Christophe Bassons, who I believe switched to Jean Delatour during the winter?
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