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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

steepholm steepholm
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A Heavy Roller
Many sports segregate men and women, presumably with the idea of evening out advantages of strength and size. Some, such as boxing and weightlifting, also divide people into weight categories, I assume for similar reasons. In a few, such as horseracing, contenders who might otherwise by at an advantage are handicapped by having to carry extra weights.

In many ways this makes sense. It's more interesting to see someone's hard-honed skill at work than to simply watch genetic advantage play out. Gulliver could win the Lilliput marathon without breaking into a run - but that wouldn't make him an athlete. I feel a bit like that when watching basketball: there must be many keen and talented players who just happen to be under six feet tall. Couldn't they have a league of their own, just as the lighter boxers get their own weight?

But why stop there? Isn't talent itself something of a genetic lottery? Admittedly, even if we wanted to it would be hard in practice to handicap talent in games, because it's difficult to say where in-born talent ends and those other skills for which we might feel justified in giving people personal credit (hard work, practice, determination) begin. We may also want to handicap people for other unearned advantages, such as having access to good facilities, the best coaches, etc. How are these things fundamentally different (apart from not being against the rules) from other performance-enhancing aids?

Of course, people don't want to see hard work alone rewarded. Hard work inspires admiration, but talent inspires awe - and that's what pulls people in. There's something contradictory in all these efforts at ensuring a level playing field in some parts of the pitch and cheering its bumpiness in others. But then, I'm not really a sports person.

"Harrison Bergeron"?

Had to Google that: I've not read it.

Yes, a drive-by crypticism...

I'm not sure if you're aware of this, as basketball is, by origin and still largely in practice, a purely American sport, but basketball as played today is a complete derisory mockery of the sport's original intent.

The purpose is placing the basket way up there was to make it far higher than anyone could reach, so that they had to throw the ball and be equalized in that way. By breeding basketball players who can reach that high, or so close to it that height differences become a practical advantage, the entire point is being undercut. Height categories, like weight categories in boxing, would be an excellent way of countering that, if the rule were that the basket was kept N inches higher than the top of the height category.

I wasn't aware of that, no. Now I want to see those categories brought in even more! There must be many mute inglorious Magic Johnsons who never got a chance to shine because of their height.

The great big black line between two sets of competitors is, of course the olympics/paralympics one. This, and the subdivisions of paralympic competitors illustrates your point well. Sporting contest are all highly illogical!

I am not a sports person, either - but even I get pretty excited when the combination of inherited advantage and training combine to produce a sporting performance that is superlative - Mohammed Ali - Usain Bolt - in my youth it was Olga Korbut, who inspired an epidemic of handstands and somersaults at my junior school. Even longshanks here got one or two little cloth badges to sew onto her leotard!

Ah yes, Olga Korbut was alway my favourite too. Nadia Comăneci was too glamorous, but Korbut looked like she'd be at home in a beetroot queue: I warmed to her.