The Body Politic: The Athlete

Pancakes for breakfast. Failure as blissful oblivion. And this summer, the five-ring circus comes to town. This is the season of the Athlete.

The Body Politic: The Athlete

The Athlete is a team player. His attitude is competitive, sometimes to his detriment, but nevertheless he is insatiable in his desire to take a W in his daily affairs. Often these occur in his professional life, which he approaches with an analytical eye and with an enthusiasm for the creative that is the only natural impulse for a life in front of a spreadsheet. 

Where his attitude plays out most assertively, of course, is in sport. The Athlete is not someone to distinguish one kind of physical activity over another — winter or summer, land or water, up a tree or down a hill, all game is fair game. This is frustrating for all of us over 30 who can still remember the days when we could eat Tupperware and lard and our bodies would process it and who now need to spend large portions of the day running because we’ve added salad dressing to the lettuce. We watch agog, in horror and amazement, at the way in which the Athlete eats: the pancakes and bacon as a breakfast staple; the standard luncheon carbohydrates; and an even larger quantity of food in the evening.

All the above are ingested with little to no effect: apparently it all gets put into barbells and FX machines. He plugs in his earphones — presumably he listens to a motivational podcast, or perhaps a romantic novel — and applies his mind and muscles to the gym until such time as he can go no further. The parlance for lifters and gym bros when you work till you drop is, ironically, ‘failing’. But this doesn’t work for our man here — that’s for the TikTok generation. Our man sees that blissful oblivion as does a lion resting next to its kill. 

Illustration: Sapper.

His body has not wearied as the years have gone on; it has retained a level of perfection that comes from consistency, dedication and courage. Concurrent to his physical development is the psychological — a focus on mental fortitude and dedication to personal wellness, the importance of which men today are only beginning to understand. The people the Athlete likes to keep around him have a mutual understanding of the benefits that come from this. 

There is a big ‘however’. The almost meditative, Buddhist approach to his days is juxtaposed with a love of cars, especially fast ones. His is a ‘deus ex machina’ approach, with not much distinction between engineering and the divine or snobbery for the combustion engine — in fact, he has a delightful enthusiasm for what the modern technocrats might be able to invent, design and innovate. 

The Olympics this summer will provide all the entertainment he needs for a fortnight, and its competitors all the inspiration for his ever-ambitious goals and milestones, from the grace and elegance of the dressage riders and the power and speed of the sprinters to the endurance of the rowers and the technical perfection of the high jumpers. The thing about being an Athlete is that it can be somewhat lonely, for not many of us meet the criteria — perhaps in our youth, yes, but one by one we have fallen into separate categories, save for the few persistent and stubbornly proactive souls who find the stimulus where the rest of us falter and see only excuses to bow out.