The Olympics are Good For Me, Part One

I’m starting to get really excited about the Olympics.

Fair warning: The Olympics always cause me to get ridiculously navel gaze-y.  I promise that my blog coverage of the Olympics will be, for the most part, silly and frivolous, but first I have two posts I need to get off my chest.

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Competition

I’ve written a bit about this before (here’s my favorite post on this topic), but I believe there are a lot a lot of parallels between playing music and playing sports.  We all practice for very long hours, we all prepare, and we all perform.  This is just a guess, but I’d be willing to bet that I’ve spent as much time, if not more, playing the viola as Ryan Miller has spent in an ice rink.  In addition to the similarities with preparation, performing music and sports requires a specific mindset, which is why I have a shelf full of sports psychology books in my house.

At a certain point, the comparison breaks down with team sports.  I suppose you could say an orchestra is like a sports team, but it’s a stretch.  The BPO is not competing against other orchestras.  (Although, the fantasy of a comical head-to-head “Battle of the Orchestras” is one of my favorites for occupying my mind during a slow rehearsal.)  The analogy works much better for individual sports, which is probably one of the reasons I love the Olympics so much.  I am truly inspired by watching individual sport athletes compete.  I’ll even take it a step further and say that I am most inspired by the athletes who do not directly engage with their competition (like divers, or gymnasts), but who get up to compete alone, and who are in truth competing against no one in the end.  It’s not a matter of beating the other guy when a diver walks to the end of the board, it’s just a matter of performing at the highest possible level.  It’s simply do, or not do.  (Look, Yoda was smart, okay?)  I like this aspect of the Olympics very much.

I am not, by nature, a very competitive person, and my skill level while operating under the gun is a bit touch and go.  While I have competed often (someday I’ll do a post about orchestra auditions…today I’ll just tell you that auditions are not for the faint of heart and leave it at that), obviously, in comparison to sports, the opportunities to “win” and “lose” in music are a lot fewer.  A good performance or audition is not “beating” anyone, it’s simply performing freely, and to the best of my ability. It’s always just a competition against myself and my fears.  Maybe it’s all those goofy human interest pieces they do, but I feel that the Olympics somehow highlight this type of competition better than other sporting events.

The Olympics always have a few amazing stories.  It’s almost a certainty that in some sport a favorite will crack under the pressure, and some scrappy unknown will rise up to fill the void.  I find this process both humbling and uplifting.  Humbling to see someones personal nightmare unfold, and uplifting to see a dream realized.  The Olympics are not always just about beating the other guy, they are often about rising to the occasion.  The “occasion” of the Olympics seems to take certain athletes out of the grim task of “being the best”, and into a mindset of joyful participation. I can’t tell you how inspiring it is for me as a musician to see athletes win while appearing to be in this mindset.

Lately, in my own life I’m more drawn to the journey than I am to the destination, but the Olympics are pretty darn compelling as far as destinations go.  As I have gotten older, and I’ve begun to feel less urgency to prove myself, my interest in competition has grown.  As a result, my appreciation for musicians and athletes who operate at their highest level in the most competitive environments has never been higher.  I love having the opportunity to see world class competitors react to the big show.  Being able to watch all this from the safety and comfort of my couch (Robin’s couch this year) is invaluable to me as musician and inspiring to me as a person.

I love the Olympics.

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3 Responses to “The Olympics are Good For Me, Part One”


  1. 1 M.J. August 3, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    I guarantee, within 5 minutes of the gymnastic competitions starting, Ill be backflipping off the arm of my couch.

    and then another 15 minutes after that, I’ll probably will have dislocated a couple of major joints.

    But still!! There is nothing like the Olympics:)

  2. 3 Jaime August 4, 2008 at 9:19 am

    I’ve been excited about the Olympics for a few weeks now. I just love the commercial with the runner who gets hurt and his dad helps him finish the race. I cry every time!

    As for the one-on-one with yourself compitition, I remember the stress I put myself through in high school trying to get into Concert Choir (the top 75 students). When I made it I was jumping around the hallways I was so happy. I can’t even imagine how it feels for a professional such as yourself.


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