April 17, 2013

Diaristic Thoughts

Under a sky clotted with clouds (April weather beggars can't be choosers), I set off on the annual spring hike at Glacier Ridge. Sunglasses seemed an optimistic touch, but I did end up employing them a couple of times.

The day started well anyway; I read long from Kings of the Road, the story of the great U.S. marathoners of the '70s. This dovetailed fortuitously with the Boston Marathon, which I watched completely ignorant (as everyone else) of carnage that would later transpire.

I later bathed, surely unhealthily, in the coverage of it. Certainly that's what the bomber wanted, the constant replaying of the images of death and dismemberment, a fixation on death proper to their philosophy of nihilism. Also unhealthy because it leads to great frustration in me, a frustration of not being able to reach these people. But then appropriate first reading the other day about the stoning of St. Stephen. There will never be an earthly end to murder and mayhem and nonsensical destruction, at least not until the Second Coming. We know the script: persecution and then glorification and we're in the first part.

When you think about how open a marathon is compared to, say, a sporting even like an Ohio State game you realize it must be a tempting target for terrorists. But then there were so many cameras out there that it's just unreal that they haven't caught the person on camera yet. 

So I watched caught a good bit of the race and wrote some of this during it: Kenyans, Ethiopians everywhere, especially at the finish line. But the Americans had a couple 4th place showings. It was interesting to read about the rise of African countries in the sport of distance running. It's another example of economics and the market in action: when money started coming to the sport, East Africans were recruited to the sport. As did colleges and universities who recruited the phenomenal athletes. It's an example of an under-utilized resource that money found. Sort of a micro example of the whole economic story since the '70s: the labor and productivity of Third World nations being employed, at the cost of First World jobs. The American marathoners of the '70s gave way to the Kenyans and Ethiopians of the '90s and beyond. The wonder is not that these things happened, but that they didn't happen sooner.

Anyway it was a fine thing to see these wondrous runners striving along the streets and towns of Massachusetts heading for Boston. Many of the top female wore what looked to the naked eye like bikini bottoms. There's an interesting double-standard that happens even when there is no enforcement of a double-standard, i.e. no one is forcing the men toward greater modesty or women toward greater display, and yet the men and women fall into their respective sartorial camps.

It's sort of funny that Frank Shorter, who was constantly evading the amateur rules by taking money under the table during the '70s, laments what money has done for the sport. I suppose the two things aren't mutually exclusive; it's one thing to make a very modest income like Shorter and Rodgers did compared to today's runners. It seems like there's a huge psychological difference between some money and a lot of money. It's much like baseball players made modest money in the '70s only to become millionaires in the '80s. Baseball changed by becoming more mercenary, no team loyalty, players much friendlier with opposing players and arguably less caring about World Series and playoffs because the money isn't needed. During the '60s and '70s, the money a player made by making the playoffs or Series was extremely helpful.

Shorter says that the agents changed running because today's athletes will intentionally schedule around head-to-head match-ups with other good runners. The opposite happened in the '70s. The elite runners went in search of events with other elite runners.

The whole amateur system seemed a romantic thing to me and I had mixed emotions when thy did away with it. Who wouldn't like a story involving runners who ran for love of the sport rather than for money? But, as many romantic things, it didn't start out that way. It originated in Britain in order to keep the riff-raff from participating in sporting events. The Cambridge and Oxford boys didn't want to be on the same field with the lower class who played for money.

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