Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Landscape of the Body

When the Olympics begin on Friday, I will have several reasons to watch, but high on the list is swimmer Dara Torres, who is 41 years old, has a three-year-old child and is still setting records going into what will be her fifth Olympic Games.

Torres works out six hours a day: two in the pool, two in the gym, and, enviably, two with a team of resistance stretchers. She credits the latter with her continued success in a sport dominated by athletes under 21.

I always root for "older" athletes, like Martina Navratilova, who is the oldest tennis player to win a Grand Slam title (she's won 59, her last at age 49) . But I also salute all those who are dedicated to staying fit no matter how old they are.

Some commit to fitness because it helps with with their sporting pursuits, some because they're concerned about their health, some because they just like to look good. They're all following ideals that value the intrinsic capabilities and beauty of the human body, which is what the Greeks who came up with the original Olympics had in mind.

The great sculptor Polykeitos, who lived and worked 2500 years ago, was dedicated to proportion, balance and symmetry. "Perfection," he said, referring to his work, "comes about little by little."

Just ask Dara Torres. Of course, she wouldn't have been able to compete in the Olympics of his time, which were male-only. And I wouldn't have been able to watch, as the athletes were nude, and only male spectators were allowed.

(The Doryphoros of Polykleitos.)

(The Dara of Torres, as seen in The New York Times).

Post title from John Guare's play, which is about ideals in its own way.

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