The Magic of Elite Sports

My own photo! Even these little kids dream of one day skating in the Olympics. Team Delaware SST

My own photo! Even these little kids dream of one day skating in the Olympics. Team Delaware SST

The Olympic Games is every athlete’s biggest dream. Every kid that’s getting in the car for practice, spending all day trying to perfect one part of their sport, giving up sleepovers with friends for time spent on the field have that little dream in the back of their minds. They see the television ads, the athletes they look up to, and they realize that the Olympics are the ultimate goal. That holds true for me, an elite synchronized ice skater. “Synchronized ice skating? What’s that?” You ask? That’s because it’s not in the Olympic games. But it might be soon. There are a slew of reasons why synchro should be in the Olympics, and when I thought of writing about it for a blog post, I originally wanted to talk about the politics behind the sport and getting it into the Olympic Games. Then, I thought about Huizinga’s Homo Ludens and wanted to talk about why synchro is play, and, therefore, included in the magic circle of play. The problem with that idea? It isn’t. Neither are any Olympic sports.

As “amateur” athletes, we might not get paid, but we do so much that violates Huizinga’s definition of play. He argues that, to be considered “play,” an activity needs to be disinterested and the antithesis of seriousness. Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m spending 20+ hours a week working to get two programs as

My own photo! An elite synchronized skating team that competes on behalf of USA and has been Team USA 1 at World Championships for the past two years. Lexettes SST

My own photo! An elite synchronized skating team that competes on behalf of USA and has been Team USA 1 at World Championships for the past two years. Lexettes SST.

perfect as possible, dreaming of hearing an announcer call my team “Team USA 1” at the World Championships in Croatia, what I’m doing seems pretty serious. When my coach screams and shouts at us for messing up what seem like a simple, tiny step, that doesn’t seem disinterested. All high-level athletes must feel this; we all know that our sport means so much more to us. However, I don’t think sports start out like this; originally, they meet Huizinga’s definition of play.

When a kid steps onto the ice for their first group lesson, it’s fun and games. You practice the right way to fall (On your butt, going slow, which never actually happens) and get up, and, if you’re lucky, you might get to skate with some cones to help yourself stay on your feet. No athlete would stick with a sport long enough to get to an elite level if they didn’t experience “play” when first starting. However, I wouldn’t even be continuing skating if I still didn’t have moments of play with my team,

My own photo! Two teammates before competing on behalf of Team USA in Italy. Hard work, but also lots of "play" got us to this point.

My own photo! Two teammates before competing on behalf of Team USA in Italy. Hard work, but also lots of “play” got us to this point.

like our princess etiquette dinner or impromptu karaoke competitions. The existence of the Magic Circle within serious sports is what makes it possible for athletes to keep playing, and this is where the problems of Huizinga’s definition lie.

The Olympic Games’ exclusion from the Magic Circle questions and begins to tear apart Huizinga’s definition of play. I would argue that play can be interested and serious. When I’m on the ice, I feel a disconnect from the world around me. Everything else stops. It doesn’t matter how poorly I did on the first Boss Battle (the tests in this poli sci class), what argument I managed to get into with my mom over the phone, or how late I’m going to be up working on blog posts and papers and studying. All that matters is what I’m doing in that moment, the feeling of my blade on the ice. All elite athletes feel this way about their sport, something I can’t describe as anything less than magical.

When you practice so long and work so hard to get something right, you’re obviously interested in it and think it’s serious. However, the moments when you realize that your work has paid off, and that you have met your goals are indescribable. In these moments, nothing matters. Not how much your feet hurt, how tired you are, or how much you’ve missed out on trying to get there. You are in paradise, a magic circle, whatever you prefer to call it. Moments like this are what make the Olympic Games so inspiring and why I argue that Huizinga’s definition of play is way off. I love these moments and cannot for a second believe that they do not fall into my own magic circle. And this makes me say that everyone has their own definition of play; everyone has their own moments that belong in the magic circle whether Huizinga agrees or not.

A picture my mom took at the National Championships when my team got our scores. I can honestly say I didn't care that I couldn't really breathe at the altitude because THIS was pure magic.

A picture my mom took at the National Championships in Colorado Springs when my team got our scores. I can honestly say I didn’t care that I couldn’t really breathe at the altitude because THIS was pure magic.

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One comment

  1. ethanmartin95 · October 14, 2014

    I know exactly where you are coming from and I completely agree with you. I have been a track and cross country runner for 6 years and I have been fortunate enough to now run for the University of Michigan. It is a blessing but the journey to this point has been very tough. The miles got faster, the distances got longer, and the intensity felt like it doubled everyday. At first I got into running because I enjoyed the sport. It’s relaxing and very laid back. You get out what you put in which meant if you didn’t care about performance, running could be as easy as you wanted. I liked running with my friends and being in that environment. It was play. But as running became a more involved portion of my life, the seriousness increased and running almost became a job. It was tough work and at times I grudged practice. Despite this, I still loved the sport and every time I raced, I was in my own paradise and fell more in love with the sport. The training is hard and grueling but the pay off during a race is where the pleasure comes from.

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