I have a confession. Since that London flame was lit I’ve unashamedly been spending most of my time glued to the television at the expense of friends, work and, at times, personal hygiene. I consider it a personal endurance race and, goodness, I’m willing to put in the training time.
Still, with all this sports watching, I can’t help but notice a few things. Like the fact that it’s 2012, but this is the first Olympic Games where every participating team has had at a female representative. Well now.
Speaking of gender disparity, there’s recently been a bit of a splash on the synchronised swimming front, with a group of men lodging a complaint with the Olympic Committee that it’s unfair they’re banned from participating. Hold on…it’s 2012 and men aren’t allowed to compete in an event simply because it’s too “girly?” Clearly seeing boys do underwater dancing moves might undermine the seriousness of the Olympics. I mean, it’s the world’s biggest sporting event, not an aquatic version of the YMCA! …hang on, you mean when girls do it, it’s called a sport? You mean it’s really just our prejudice that’s holding us back?
Seriously, folks. I hold my breath for someone to figure this goldmine out and make the next ‘Billy Elliot’ movie of the swimming pool. We’ve mostly got our intentions right when it comes to the boardroom, but goodness, when it comes to bodies we’re backward.
Once you start looking for it, of course, gender disparity is everywhere. Let’s take a quick look at gymnastics – not too closely, or we might get blinded by all the blue eye shadow and sparkles (not for the men, of course – they wear sensible shorts). Despite honing their bodies to be perfect specimens of both strength and flexibility, there’s no chance for men to compete in rhythmic gymnastics. Likewise, events such as the pommel aren’t open for women. Why? Well, because men must be strong and women must be beautiful, of course.
…and don’t tell me that women can’t do it because they aren’t strong enough. Certainly, women tend to have less upper body capacity than men (tell that to Li Xueying, the Chinese weightlifter who can snatch 108kgs). Still, in general life we don’t suggest women avoid rock climbing because the little dears might drop off. It’s gender politics and it’s telling us and our kids what it’s ok for us to look like and – more worryingly – be.
The Olympics is – or should be – all about smashing the limits of what we think our bodies allow us to do. Athletes train for four years for a chance to prove to the world that they can surpass the recorded limits of human capacity. (Evidently US swimmer Ryan Lochte – an avid junk food fanatic – denied himself even the smallest indulgence for two whole years in preparation for these current two weeks. I don’t know about you, but that’s sure as heck pushing the limits of human endurance already).
Im Dong-hyun is a South Korean archer – one of the highest ranked in the world. He also happens to be legally blind. Turns out, he’s taught himself to pinpoint the position of the bull’s eye based only on precise body movements and relying on muscle memory to guide his release. Many people say he’s more consistent than athletes who use their eyes to guide the arrow – his body allows for one less distraction. How ‘bout them apples? Then there’s Natalia Partyka, the Ping-Pong player born with one arm that ends at the elbow. Bar a modified serve, in which she holds the ball in the crook of her elbow, she’s slamming the competition. Im and Partyka – together with our very own Natalie du Toit and Oscar Pistorius – are great examples for us that our bodies don’t have to dictate our experiences; that we can do what brings us joy, regardless of what people think we are capable of.
So why, when we’re so hungry for world records and the kind of touching moments that DSTV insist on backing with a Coldplay track, are we still obsessed with a narrow notion of normal? Why in 2012 is it still such a big deal for an Olympic athlete to ‘come out’ as gay that only 22 Olympians out of a total field of over 11 000 have done so? Why is the Huffington Post running a feature on Karen Hultzer – our Olympic archer – not for her sport, but for her sexuality? As she is quoted, “I am an archer, middle aged and a lesbian. I am also cranky before my first cup of coffee. None of these aspects define who I am…I look forward to the day when this is a non-issue and as relevant as my eye colour.”
Well said, Karen. Now, is everybody listening?
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