Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Just a Bike Race, You Say?"

The New York Times comments on the difficulty of the Tour de France.

Reading reminded me of when people--pretty ill-informed people--ask me if I'd ever like to race in the Tour. This line from the article is pretty much what I tell these people:

“The difference between people who think they’re good athletes and really good athletes is fantastic."

The curse of my life has been to have enough appreciation of whatever I'm into, whether it be recreational or professional, to know how poorly I stack up to those who really are good, and to rather be good than mediocre. It is a kind of damnation.


k8 said...

when i was working with the U.S. Speedskating Teams at the Olympic Trials in 2001 it was pretty interesting to see how truly spectacular the athletes were who made the team compared to the ones who "just missed" qualifying. World class athletes are freaks of nature.

it is indeed a special form of torture to know enough to know that you aren't as good at a thing as you wish you were.

Scott said...

I have friends ask me all the time if I ever plan on riding the Tour. I generally try to demur and say something vague like "It's by invitation only..." rather than try and explain to people why the Tour is not something you just show up for.
It is kind of funny to consider how much progress I have made in my own athleticism if people much less active than myself put me in the same field as the top 189 riders in the world, even if they are clueless.

vandyman said...

The curse of the 95th percentile...

Good enough to stand head and shoulders from the crowd in the home town, but not good enough the achieve at the national level, where the 99th percentile is needed or at the international level where the 99.99th percent is needed.

Good enough to rightly feel gifted and that one should devote one life to developing the talent, but in the end not gifted enough to make a profession out of it.

If one has lesser talent, you could easily walk away and be a casual week-end warrior. But at the 95th percentile, one also feels that to walk away is the throw a great gift away.

Whether its cycling, other sports, academics, or art, the tradegy is that a sense of failure always dogs you despite some pretty great achievements because one finally realizes you never really were that close to the top. The only consolation is that at least you were good enough to actually see it.

sjnagel said...

I thought it was just a matter of a few blood transfusions, No?

goat said...

Very well said, Sean (aka vandyman).

The curse of the 95th percentile... It would make a good autobiography title, though the thesis would likely only produce empathy from other 95ers. I don't think anyone else can relate.

goat said...

>> The only consolation is that at least you were good enough to actually see it.

This thought, however, I find of little consolation. Or rather it would be better to say I find it of a kind of complicated consolation.

It's strikes me that what you're getting at is Eve's consolation. After, she rejoices in her knowledge of good and evil, the joy-pain of the lone and dreary world, but surely she tucked away a parcel of regret in some distant corner of her mind. Or maybe just reminiscence. For the blissful ignorance of Eden.

Mmm... But while I sweat over the dissonance--the existential paradox--I revel in the clarity of thought which the myth facilitates. I love that story more every day.

MTN said...

I have felt this curse in music. I think it's pretty miraculous that my fingers can traverse a guitar or fiddle fingerboard in the intricate patterns as speedily and accurately as they do; that I can perform over three hours-worth of music (with SLB's band) and over an hour of originals (with BRB); that I can tell if a note is slightly in or out of tune; that I can tell the difference between swinging and straight eighth notes; that I can tell if a drummer is in the pocket...I think all of this is extraordinary, and yet I know well too well how ordinary of a player I am when stacked against the many jobless virtuosos in Nashville - to say nothing of people like Chris Thile, Mark O'Connor, and Brent Mason.

I have friends at MIT who all got 800s on the math portion of the SAT. I think they are geniuses, but they talk in awe about the math skills of a cajun who I knew at LSMSA named Mike Guidry. I wonder who strikes awe and wonder in his mind.