“Chariots of Fire,” a movie about the 1924 Olympic Games
Based on actual events, Chariots of Fire endearingly memorializes the individual and team exploits of the British track and field squad before and during the 1924 Olympic Games. We can enjoy several subthemes of Sports from the movie.
Tournaments: This movie centers on the 1924 Olympic Games. Periodically, major sports organizations organize competitions among nations. The FIFA World Cup, Cricket World Cup, and Rugby World Cup command headlines and nationalistic fervor. Then there are clusters of events that draw in the world’s stars, such as the tennis Grand Slam, golf’s Majors, the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, and the Triple Crown for horse racing. The Olympics used to allow amateurs only, unpaid contestants, but that blurred and ignored distinction with professional athletes has given way (as of 2016 even professional boxers. Another shift has seen the elevation of women’s sports and paraolympics; neither were even imagined taking part in the games of the movie.
Sportsmanship: One of the main characters bowed out of his race at the Olympics so that his Jewish teammate, who would not race on the Sabbath, could compete. That decision embodied good sportsmanship. Athletes imbued with a respect for the supposed values of sports – integrity, graciousness, tolerance – lose gracefully and congratulate the winner or win humbly and give full credit to opponents, coaches, fans, and good fortune. A “good sport” will call a close shot in favor of her opponent and will self-report errors (such as nudging a golf ball before a shot). Despite obvious breaches, an ethos of honor and honesty surrounds sports.
Practice and Coaches: Several scenes in the movie, including the memorable opening run along a beach, show the athletes conditioning or practicing. All accomplished athletes have invested years to learn their sport and work hard to hone and maintain their skills. Nowadays, serious athletes hire coaches who instruct them how they can improve their techniques, physical condition, strategy, and other aspects of their sport. The main character in the movie hired a trainer to accelerate his sprinting. World-class athletes devote almost every waking moment to perfecting their style and capabilities.
An engrossing movie from 1981 about an Olympic Games from a half century before brings out a number of aspects of Sports: the quadrennial Olympiad captivates the world and its finest athletes, to perform at that elite level takes years of dedicated preparation, and yet the creed of dealing fairly with your opponents shines through.
“Race Horses in Front of the Stands,” a painting by Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas captured the edgy anticipation before the start of a horse race. Thoroughbreds prance and shy and jockeys maneuver before the spectators as a frisson of excitement radiates from the painting. This elegant scene evokes other thoughts about Sports.
![Race Horses in Front of the Stands](C:/Users/Rees Morrison/Documents/R/Projects/CLIENTS/Themes/BlogThemes1/static/media/SportsHorseRace.jpg)
Class and Cost: With prize thoroughbreds, like those Degas painted prancing before the spectators, owners spend lavishly on the costly necessities of siring, feeding, training, transporting, and racing them. Other sports also inhale money and exhale privilege: polo matches, cigarette-boat racing, Himalayan ascents, equestrian jumping, Formula One racing, and yacht regattas all feature sticker shock. Most participants in such big-ticket sports come from the privileged classes in their countries.
Other sports cost money to enjoy, but not at the millionaire-only level: golf, skiing, rowing crew, ice hockey, sky diving, white-water kayaking, fox hunting, deep-sea fishing and gliding would be considered by most people to be expensive past-times that many can still afford. Not only are the sports themselves pricey because of equipment, but also lodging, travel, guides, and access fees drive up the cost.
If those are thousand-dollar sporting activities, hugely popular five-dollar sports thrive around the world: soccer, 5K foot races, cricket, tennis, basketball, darts, and ping-pong, to name a few, are played widely and at little cost.
Gambling: For the onlookers at the race track of Degas) as well as fans following the outcomes from elsewhere of sulky, dog, or car races, an optional thrill comes from betting on the outcome. Wagering on outcomes of sports events boasts as aged a lineage as the sports themselves. Unfortunately, whenever people gamble on athletic games, unscrupulous types will connive to manipulate the game, to cheat so that they make money. The infamous Black Sox scandal tarred baseball for years, Marlon Brando “coulda been a contenda” except as a prize fighter he took a fall (allowed himself to lose) to enrich his handlers, and Paul Newman teamed with Robert Redford to pull off an epic sting. Other varieties of cheating in sports include the steroid era of baseball, the Olympic drug scandals, sign stealing in baseball, and ball deflation in football. Wherever money changes hands based on a game, hands will tip the scales. Now, online legal betting is flush with cash and eager bettors so sports gambling will probably ramify and spread.
Fans: The left third of Degas’ painting shows bedecked onlookers under white parasols and evokes the track scene from the movie, My Fair Lady. Elegant elites attend classy events to see and be seen. Today, hundreds of millions of fans watch sporting events in person, and multiples of those numbers root for their favorite in front of a radio or television. Here are estimates from realbuzz and World Atlas about worldwide fans for various sports: football/soccer (4 billion fans), cricket (2.5 billion), field and ice hockey (2 billion), tennis (1 billion), volleyball (900 million), table tennis/ping pong (875 million), basketball (825 million), baseball (500 million), rugby (475 million), and badminton (200 million). These major sports appeal to people around the world and draw on a global talent pool. Many sports have smaller fan bases and local appeal: squash, platform tennis, pickleball, Australian footies, lacrosse, jai alai, and bocci come to mind. Many fans become rabid – they live and die by the fortunes of the team they root for.
Selective Gushers of Money: We don’t know the purses for the Degas jockeys who came first, nor what it cost the elegant onlookers to enter the stands. We can trust, however, that francs changed hands and organizers made money. A century and a half later, the global sports industry generates hundreds of billions of dollars every year. Tickets, parking fees, concession purchases, branded goods, as well as food and drink sales flow to owners. They reap billions of dollars more from TV and cable networks that pay for exclusive rights to cover major events such as the Olympics and (shall we say) sport pricey ads. But only a few, hugely popular sports share in much largess; most run on fumes and can’t generate enough financial support to sustain leagues. The Croesus money deluges the dominant sports of America (football, basketball and baseball) plus lesser amounts for international tennis, soccer and golf. To make money on lumberjack contests won’t happen, but rodeos support mini-industries.
Degas was fascinated by the energy, lines and movement of race horses. The conspicuous wealth of owners, the growing excitement from wagers laid, and the costliness of the sport are all evident from the painting.
“The Boxer,” a song by Simon & Garfunkel
Paul Simon matches the difficult life of a poor boy in the big city to the batterings a boxer suffers in the ring. Blow after disappointing blow lands, like on the boxer, but the young boy still remains, because what are his meager choices, and what are his dreams? The sports metaphor introduces several subthemes.
I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocketful of mumbles
Such are promises
All lies and jest
Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest
When I left my home and my family
I was no more than a boy
In the company of strangers
In the quiet of the railway station
Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters
Where the ragged people go
Looking for the places only they would know
Asking only workman’s wages
I come looking for a job
But I get no offers
Just a come-on from the whores on Seventh Avenue
I do declare, there were times when I was so lonesome
I took some comfort there
[musical interlude, then refrain omitted]
Then I’m laying out my winter clothes
And wishing I was gone
Where the New York City winters aren’t bleeding me
In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminders
Of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains
Listen to The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel.
Errors and Losses: As the song says, boxers sometimes drop their hands and take punches or the gloves cut him. Contestants in sports are human, and no matter how practiced and experienced they are, they make mistakes. Sometimes the swing, pitch, or speed of your opponent overcomes you; but you stumble much worse if you commit a so-called unforced error (a mistake in play due to your own failure rather than to the skill or effort of your opponent): the routine volley is botched, the tight end drops the easy pass, the distracted bowler scratches, the forward double dribbles, or the shortstop fires wide to first on a plain vanilla infield roller. Such mistakes especially frustrate athletes when they misfire under pressure. The truth is, sports is a mental game at the upper levels where everyone has strong abilities so both our heads and our hands sometimes betray us.
A misplay is a small loss; commit enough of them, however, and the game or match is lost. Playing a sport inevitably means learning to live with being on the short end of scores. Even stars lose, sometimes, and everyone else who enjoys a sport must scope with the pain of defeat.
Rankings or Analytics and Records: Boxers climb into the ring to win, and hopefully to keep winning and rising in the rankings until they wear the belt or hoist the trophy. Rankings proliferate in sports: number one in woman’s tennis, number three in NASCAR points, wild-card games back, All-Star votes, NCAA Division 1 women’s basketball standings.
Every sport also overflows with statistics – earned run average, yards after catch, service aces, shots on goal. Improvements in filming, image recognition, and software have proliferated advanced metrics that could not have previously been calculated, such as exit velocity, percentage of catch likelihood, speed of service, and others. Ever since the book Moneyball, coaches, managers and players have incorporated increasingly sophisticated metrics into their analysis of how best to play the game.
Related to tracking all aspects of play, sports have led to record books. Hundreds of pages list the record holders of each sport and who trails them on the listing (no-hitters, 300s in bowling, centuries in cricket, triple doubles in basketball, Kentucky Derbys entered, and on and on).
Evolution and Change: The rules of boxing and all sports are codified. In serious competitions, judges, umpires, or referees make calls, determine whether a player has violated a rule, and sometimes impose penalties (such as for nudging a ball in golf before swinging). Periodically the governing body of a sport, such as the International Olympic Committee, revises the rules. They add the three-point arc in basketball, have a player start on second base in extra innings of baseball, specify tire changing protocols in NASCAR races, limit the frame of a tennis racket to 29 inches, move back the point-after-touchdown kick, or set the number of clubs permitted in an LPGA event. Then there are sports strategies that change, such as shifting infielders in baseball or playing without a classic center in the paint. Sports, in other words, evolves with technology, with regulatory changes, and with views as to what works best.
The song compares the struggles of a poor young man in a brutal city to the painful endurance of the fighter by his trade who carries the reminders Of every glove that laid him down. Both the youth and the boxer forge on, but the cost is high as the ugly side of a sport is bared.
“To an Athlete Dying Young,” a poem by A. E. Housman
A.E. Housman chose a metaphor from sports, but his poem conveys more broadly a truth about reputation: celebrities often outlive their fame, and ungracefully, if the name died before the man. By ironic contrast, the young winner of a footrace – that early-laurelled head – died within a short time thereafter, while the laurel garland of his honor remained fresh. The poem brings to mind other aspects of Sports.
The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.
Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.
Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.
So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.
And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.
Injuries: Death takes an athlete permanently off the field of life, but weaknesses of the body – injuries – foreshadow it as short-term impersonators. Athletes compete in sports that demand physical strength, speed, flexibility, and endurance. When athletes warm up too quickly, push their bodies to extremes, crash violently together, repeat the same stressful motion, hang on too long, or suffer bad luck, they get hurt. Knees go in football, rotator cuffs give way in tennis, elbows surrender to Tommy John surgery in baseball, hamstrings tear in cricket, spinal vertebrae weaken in golf, Achilles tendons pop in basketball, ACLs tear when on ski slopes, and steeds shatter their forelegs. Despite skilled trainers and warm up routines, injuries mar sports at unpredictable intervals. Time spent on injury lists and in rehabilitation follow, and some athletes never return to form. Recovery from injuries dogs almost every athlete at some point.
Diminishment of Skills from Aging: In Housman’s poem, the champion runner dies young, the final round of life that we all lose. Our bodies peak around age 20 in terms of strength, agility, flexibility, endurance, and recovery time – that is our physical prime of life. The decades of the 20’s and 30’s flash the hardest punches. Thoughtful, informed, disciplined workouts and lifestyles can sustain high-level performance for a time, but inevitably and inexorably the performance of athletes decline – athletic excellence is The garland briefer than a girl’s. Experience helps them keep the edge and extend their years of accomplishment, but the deterioration of age slows, injures, and eventually stops everyone. We marvel at the longevity of a Drew Brees, Nolan Ryan, Phil Mickelson, Roger Federer, and David Robinson but they are the rare exceptions to being benched too early by Coach Time.
Stars and MegaStars: You must stay near the top of your sport for much longer than did Housman’s lad, but for a tiny fraction of professional athletes, fortunes and fame rewards them. The rare athletes who achieve world-class status, and maintain that exalted peak for a few years, can exploit their stardom into wealth. Eye-popping salaries and lucrative sponsorships spin their glow into gold, while memorabilia signings, pep-talk speeches, ghost-written books, advertisement cameos for gold medalists and other opportunities enrich athletes who thrill mobs of adoring fans. The hero worship of a Lionel Messi, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan or Tom Brady resembles godlike (gold-like) status. A handful of retired athletes parlay their reputations into roles beyond sports such as Jim Bunning serving in the U.S. Senate, Derek Jeter buying the Miami Marlins, Magic Johnson’s investments in the Los Angeles Lakers, and George Foreman hawking grills. Shaquille O’Neal has built a television, music, and film career that has accumulated a net worth of $400 million.
Accomplishment in sports bestows on an athlete a reputation, perhaps even renown, but life trundles on, the champion will see the record cut, as injuries or growing older and slower diminishes abilities. A few standouts may prosper hugely, but most prominent athletes are left with dusty awards and faded cheers.
Additional Subthemes of Sports
The preceding sections consider concepts of Sports that arise from a painting of race horses, a movie about Olympic exploits, a song with a boxer metaphor, and a poem about the death of a young champion. Other subthemes don’t fit closely to any of those works of art.
Games vs. Sports: The website Steemit claims that roughly 200 sports have an international governing body and that an estimated 8,000 sports are played worldwide. Still, what is a “sport” as compared to a “game”? Both terms refer to a pleasure, an entertainment for participants, spectators, and followers. My sense is that the basic elements that define a “sport” rest on a significant physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes for pleasure, entertainment, or gain.
It follows from the emphasis on physical fitness and sustained exertion that sitting to do something entertaining falls short of “sports.” Hence, no gambling activity would be a sport. Nor would activities that place a premium on mental exertion, such as chess, checkers, backgammon, poker and bridge, because they lack the constitutive requirement of physical rigor, even though it wears a person down to compete for hours at a high level. Sports as I think of them make you sweat profusely, suck in oxygen, and tire you out.
But what about darts, shuffleboard, cornhole, skeet shooting, miniature golf, billiards, and Frisbee golf? They and many other activities certainly call for skill and mental concentration, but not much physical exertion. Contestants may sweat from heat or stress, but do their muscles ache at the end? In the end, the term “sports” encompasses more than one continuum on multiple dimensions (competitive, metabolically tough, difficult to master). It defies crisp definition. Here are a few hard-to-categorize activities that many consider to be a “sport”: archery, auto racing, bowling, cheerleading, diving (yet we honor All-Americans), hiking, fly-fishing, scuba diving (competitive?), sky diving, target shooting, and trampolining.
Many sports match a person (or team) against a person (or team); others pit a person against nature (e.g., hunting, fishing, mountain climbing, rock climbing, surfing, and white-water canoeing). In the major global sports, humans compete only against humans, but other activities that would generally be deemed sports involve animals, such as the Iditarod dogsled trek or horse races. Finally, physical “games” appeal to children: hopscotch, tag, hide and seek, jump rope, capture the flag, and blind man’s bluff are not complex, challenging, or physically demanding; children love them, but from the teen years on they fall aside.
Esports: In the last decade, tens of millions around the world have enjoyed playing online games such as League of Legends. Players undergo grueling, intense preparation to reach the top flights. Teams compete for millions of dollars of prize money, in arenas crammed with thousands of paying viewers in person and countless others watching the contest stream online. College teams compete against each other and award scholarships.
Sports Expressions in General Use: Phrases that originated in sports have been adopted in English for widespread use. From my own efforts as well as from Grammarly, Lingoda, My English Teacher, English Live, 7ESL as well as Phrases, here are more than 110 sayings from a sport that have entered general use outside the sports’ setting. I have organized them alphabetically by the sport that originated the expression and offer a brief definition.
American Football - “back to square one” (start from the beginning), “cross the goal line” (finish a project), “Hail Mary pass” (last second, low-odds attempt to prevail), “Monday morning quarterback” (someone with 20/20 hindsight second-guessing another person’s decision), “punt” (delay, fall back and hope to win another chance later)
Archery - “hit your target” (succeed), “point-blank range” (up close)
Baseball - “ a can of corn” (easy task to complete), “ballpark figure” (a very rough estimate of some amount), “bat a thousand” (be successful all the time), “came out of left field” (totally unexpected), “cover all the bases” (explain something fully), “hit a home run” (achieve a big success), “hit it out of the park” (have enormous success), “in full swing” (at the peak of an activity, moving fast and efficiently), “knocked it out of the park” (a huge success, a homerun), “struck out” (completely failed to accomplish a goal), “minor league/major league” (developmental period, or not ready for prime time [the major leagues]), “off base” (acted improperly), “on deck” (the next person ready to perform), “play hardball“ (resort to rough tactics), “step up to the plate” (take on the primary role), “swing for the fences” (go for broke, all or nothing), “threw a curve ball” (surprised with their unexpected action), “touch base with someone” (briefly make contact with someone, usually to update each other), “utility player” (a versatile player, but not a starter, who can do well at multiple positions), “whiffed” (failed completely to do something expected of a person)
Basketball - “full-court press” (intense pressure on the competitor or other side), “jump ball” (one or more people try to seize an opportunity at the same time), “run out the clock” (delay until it’s too late for the other side to act), “slam dunk” (an easy opportunity to succeed)
Boxing - “come out swinging“ (start an activity aggressively), “down for the count” (done, finished, knocked out), “glass jaw” (a person susceptible to losing, vulnerable), “go the distance” (stick to the effort until the end), “have someone in your corner” (a mentor, backer, or guide), “heavy hitter“ (important person, usually in business), “hit below the belt” (do or say something unfair with the intention of hurting someone), “lost a step” (skills have deteriorated), “one-two punch“ (effective combination of two tactics), “punch above one’s weight” (do better than expected against stronger competition), “roll with the punches” (lessen the impact of the other party’s actions), “saved by the bell” (when in trouble, something stops the trouble), “she’s a real knock out” (so pretty you ‘hit the mat’), “sucker punch” (hitting someone when it’s not fair), “tale of the tape” (numerical comparisons), “throw in the towel” (give up), “throw your hat into the ring” (challenge someone), “took a body blow” (suffered a major setback), “up to scratch” (ready to begin)
Bull Fighting - “take the bull by the horns” (confront an unpleasant situation (or person) directly and with courage), “wave the red flag” (goad someone)
Cricket – “hit for six” (a major success), “sticky wicket” (a tricky situation)
Darts - “be on target” (express the key point or answer)
Golf - “par for the course” (doing well with the proficiency expected for the task), “rub of the green” (the influence of luck), “tee it up” (start a process or discussion)
Hockey - “hat trick” (three successes at nearly the same time), “take off the gloves” (get serious, go all out to win aggressively)
Horse Racing - “across the board” (equal treatment for everyone), “down to the wire” (to the last minute or end), “give someone a run for their money” (stay in the effort, not withdraw), “have a horse in the race” (care about the outcome of an argument or process), “a horse race/ neck and neck” (close contest between competitors), “near the finish line/ in the home stretch” (near the end), “under wraps”(conceal or hold back an advantage), “win hands down” (easy victory)
Pool/Billiards/Snooker - “behind the eight ball” (in a tricky, challenging situation), “call the shots” (be in charge and predict the next shot)
Rowing/Crew - “catch a crab” (err when doing something repetitious)
Sailing - “plain sailing” (a straightforward task that presents no problems, easy to complete)
Shooting - “a long shot” (you might prevail, but it’s improbable), “give it your best shot (try your hardest)
Soccer - “against the run of play“ (do well despite other side playing well), “own goal” (blunder that significantly helps the opposition)
Tennis – “ace the test” (do spectacularly), “the ball’s in their court” (the other side ought to take the next step)
Track and Field - “clear a hurdle” (overcome an obstacle), “front runner” (the person expected to win or succeed), “it’s not a race, it’s a marathon” (success usually takes a long time to achieve, not a short burst), “jump the gun” (act prematurely), “off to a running (or flying) start” (begin something well), “pass the baton” (hand off your portion of a project for a teammate to carry on), “quick out of the blocks” (a person who starts fast), “raise the bar“ (set a higher standard of expected performance), “set the bar (too) high“ (ask for too much from an employee or other person), “set the pace” (establish the pace or speed of something), “under the gun” (must continue urgently, can’t back out)
Wrestling - “no holds barred“ (any moves or responses may be done)
Multiple Sports - “a whole new ball game” (changed circumstances), “booby prize” (what the worst performer gets), “dropped the ball” (made a major mistake), “out of your league” (someone far above you socially or financially), “blind-sided” (didn’t see something bad coming), “game face” (look determined and don’t give away feelings), “in a league of one’s own” (someone who is much better than the rest), “kick off something” (begin it), “make the cut” (avoid elimination in the next phase of a competition), “a game of inches” (the difference between success and mediocrity or failure is a tiny margin), “keep your eye on the ball” (remain alert and attend to the task at hand), “level playing field” (equal conditions for all), “meet one’s match” (encounter an equal or better), “move the goalposts” (change the rules after a process begins), “not by a long shot” (nowhere close), “on the ball” (fully aware and in control of a situation), “next man up” (work must go on, so someone steps in to fill a departure), “play ball“ (start a project), “pipped to the post“ (someone almost wins but loses at the very end), “rookie mistake” (a poor judgement or error by an inexperienced person), “set the pace (for something)” (represent the best at something, lead the pack), “stay ahead of the game” (be prepared and act proficiently before others expect you to), “step up one’s game” (do better), “take a time out” (stop what you are doing to rest, pause or collect your thoughts), “take a victory lap” (bask in praise after a big success), “take one for the team” (sacrificing yourself for the better fortunes of your team), “team player” (a colleague who works well with others)