Monday, September 22, 2008

End Strong


When Michael Jordan made that amazing crossover dribble past Byron Russell of the Utah Jazz and sank that beautiful jumpshot to win the Bulls’ sixth NBA championship you thought Bob Costas was going to say, “And that is the last shot you’ll ever see Michael Jordan make.” He really should have said that. Why would any athlete want to come back to a sport after such a picture perfect ending? As Lance Armstrong announces his return to professional cycling, you can’t help but wonder why he would want to tarnish one of the most amazing cycling career endings of all time-seven Tour De France wins. Is he bored? Does so much financial wealth cause disillusionment? We all know that the promotion of his cancer awareness foundation can be done successfully without him returning to professional cycling.

Armstrong says something to the effect in his book, “It’s Not About The Bike” that athletes who are strongly committed to their sport are at times covering some sort of inner pain. The sport they put so much commitment into is a way to negate some deep-rooted pains that life deals to everyone. Is one of the factors of Michael Phelps’ success some inner pain due to a very estranged relationship with his father? Obviously his physical attributes, his training regimen, and his desire to win are the primary factors of his success. But is there one little element that we rarely look at?--this notion that the harder he works and the more he wins, the easier he can deal with his life and reconcile the pains in his heart? Is returning back to a sport where you were once the most dominant figure and possibly one of the best that has ever played a form of neurosis-a modern social ill that never could have been imagined in prior decades? It would be an interesting study to see from a psychoanalytic perspective—What is the motivation and reasoning behind top athletes re-entering their sport after retirement? What do you think?

(Click here for a video of Armstrong's coach talking about his drive to compete and win.)

5 comments:

Corry Cropper said...

It is clearly a mental thing. Tiger Woods wins between the ears... he seems to always be there on Sunday on the back nine.

A lot of these champions seem to give such dull interviews, too. I wonder if that is A) because it has been drilled into them from a young age what the script is; or B) because they are, in fact, hiding some kind of deep personal pain and the banal answers, like the intense training, competition, and drive to win, are one more way to mask that...

Not to get too philosophical, but this all makes me think of Blaise Pascal's discussion of amusement ("divertissement" in his 17th-century *Pensées*). He argues that people (specifically members of the nobility) chase balls and hunt stags for the very purpose of ignoring their own mortality and avoiding the "misery" that comes when contemplating one's position in the world and "where one is going" (in the eternities). In a sense, Pascal argues that sports mask the pain of existence in a world without salvation, while you argue, Chris, that sports mask a personal kind of psychological trauma. Probably both right, just using the language of your time...

My favorite Pascal quote (speaking of a king): "This man, born to know the universe, to judge all things, to rule a state, here he is completely focused on catching a hare!"

Joe said...

I think athletes return to their sports after retiring because that is the world they know and are comfortable with, witch includes all that goes with the sport. Of course they love the money and the fame, but I think it is all the other things that don’t get talked about as much that are also very important. It is the lifestyle, the day to day interacting with the other athletes, the training and competing and winning and who know what else that makes the athletes really want to return to the sport.

When an athlete retires their world becomes completely different. They have to find things to fill up their time with like deciding what to do with all their money (boooring). They don’t have a good excuse anymore to avoid all the annoying family members who are always asking for money. They are supposed to grow up, be responsible and act like an adult (again, boooring).

Kyle said...

Statisticians, even sports statisticians, analyze events using a principle known as Occam's Razor (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occam's_Razor). This 14th century latin saw says in essence, "the simplest explanation is usually the best explanation." With that in mind I tend to dismiss philosophical arguments (begging pardon of Mr. Pascal).

In Lance's case, I think he's just plain built better for cycling (physically and mentally) than anyone else on the planet, and he must enjoy it. How else can you explain a seven time winning streak against the world's best (and best doped) athletes? And if anyone doubts his physical prowess, check out his marathon times for the past couple years! So, why would anyone want to stop something that they're good at and enjoy (never-mind the fame and fortune)? I think he'll keep cycling til he's beaten soundly, then he'll quit for good since it won't be fun anymore. Simple.

The same logic applies to "Admiral" Phelps, and Usain "lightning" Bolt, they are physically and mentally tuned for their sport and when you're that genetically gifted (give me a break...8 gold medals, and "coasting" to a world record time in the 100 meters!) then it has to be fun. Therefore, I bet we'll keep seeing Michael and Usain until they're knocked off their respective podiums by the next "freak of nature" with access to a pool or track.

In any case, that's my 'simple' explanation. So, I'll leave it there and get up and go back to my corporate job tomorrow because I'm good at it and it's fun...right? Oh well, I guess every theory has a breaking point! ;-)

Colin said...

While I agree that Armstrong may be returning to cycling because it is something he is familiar with and perhaps because he is looking for something to fill his time, I suspect it is for two reasons: #1 for the glory -- the glory that comes from winning (which could be interpretted as a type of power) and #2 for the money. His return appears to be an easy way to promote SRAM components (he recently became a part owner in the company), which ultimately will line his pockets.

Corry Cropper said...

True, Armstrong is now part owner of SRAM, and team Astana has a contract with them. I guarantee they'll take market share from Shimano with Lance back in the game.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122230356936173641.html