Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Random thoughts on the Beijing Olympics

Both Mojo and I were commenting on the "crowds" (i.e. lack of same) along the course during both the men's and women's road races.

Outside of a smattering of apparently casual strollers all the "spectators" appeared to be the usual PRCOC-mandated levies and seat-filling "cheerleaders" (see below). After the maddened throngs packing the slopes of the Col de Tourmalet and the finishes of every stage of the Tour these deserted hills and streets looked and felt VERY strange. Is there just no fan base for cycling in a country with more bicycles than automobiles? Did the PRC discourage spectators; did they not have buses to take people out to the finishing circuits and back? Either way, we had a hard time understanding why there is no enthusiasm for the sport in a nation of cyclists.

One interesting aspect of having so many different sports and games packed into one spectacle is the display of the incredible variability of the human genome. From tiny girl gymnasts through vertiginous women vollyballers with a whole range of in-between shapes and sizes: divers, soccer players, equestrians, archers and marks-men and -women who wouldn't stand out from a crowd in their street clothes to the almost-freakishly massive weightlifters, gracile ectomorphic pole vaulters, dainty synchronized swimmers. Humans are really amazingly adaptable.

And speaking of evolutionary pressure: fencing is one bizarrely freaking mutated sport. Think of the origins of the beast; an academic approach to the art of slaughter, a scientific deconstruction of butchery. Each weapon tailored to the task: saber for the horseman, the epee for the duelist (with the foil as a practice weapon).I was fascinated watching my homegirl Mariel Zagunis in saber - the art is almost, no, IS, unrecognizable as a fighting art. The saber was a cutting weapon; killing and injuring with a saber depended on a full cut landing on the target head, arms or torso. To successfully fight with l'arme blanche required massive arm and wrist strength as well as terrific quickness. Descriptions of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian battlefield saber fighting talked about "whirling" blows and "smashing" cuts - clearly, a saber fighter had to be both quick and very strong above the waist.

But when Zagunis fences you immediately notice several things:
a. She has great quickness of both hand- and footwork, but she holds the saber low along her hip and strikes almost entirely with the wrist, using the arm only to gain extension. Her strikes are pure speed, she never lands more than a tiny fraction of the blade (usually just the tip), and,
b. she has delightful, massive thighs and a beautifully parabolic and powerful ass, both of which launch her driving attacks - her "leaping lunge" is a poem written in bone and muscle. Her main strength is below the waist.And neither of these would help her if she was planning to use her skills to win a single combat on horseback with a cutting weapon.

So we see evolutionary pressure at work in sport: the eclipse of swordfighting as a means of battlefield killing has made fencing entirely academic. As such it has become minutely focused on the need to score a simple, bloodless touch on the target; a hit which in battle would barely have distracted an enemy, much less disabled or killed. Zagunis the fencer exists only because Zagunis the fighter doesn't have to.

I missed the last summer Olympics so I have no idea whether the concept of "Olympic cheerleaders" is purely a Beijing invention or not. It seems too bizarrely Western to have originated at this event; I can't see some pudgy, Mao-jacketed Party apparatchik laying down a stack of drawings of these costumed pom-pom/jazzercise/C&W/Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders in the concept meeting to explain to his revolutionary comrades the idea of the Peppy Cheerleader versus the Sexy Cheerleader.

Regardless, based on the evidence, the Chinese have taken the whole "let's draft a bunch of lissome young women and put them in skimpy costumes to gyrate for the crowd during time-outs and on the sidelines" concept to it's extreme. Whether it's the beach bunny,the cowgirl, the belly dancer, the what-the-hell-kind-of-fantasy-critters-are-these,or even Sheena, Queen of the Jungle,the Beijing Olympic Cheerleaders have got whatever you want in male-fantasy-oriented-Olympic-cheering.
Now if we could only figure out what the hell they're cheering FOR.


Lisa said...

"she has delightful, massive thighs and a beautifully parabolic and powerful ass, both of which launch her driving attacks"

Love this description. It is Basil Fawlty as announcer. As a woman, one might take this as a back-handed compliment, but you are ever the scientist and merely doing an anatomical dissection.

Didn't fencers used to be lithe?

basilbeast said...

Belly Dancers Rule!

Did you know there are male dancers too?

How 'bout them asses?


FDChief said...

Lisa: backhanded? No, no, a thousand times no - forehanded, if anything! Mariel's sit-upon is Art, and her legs are among Nature's miracles right up there with sunsets and kittens. I love her gorgeous combination of power, speed and control. Watching her fence her lower body is like a machine forged of massive steel that can pluck a single rose petal.

And many fencers are still slender and flexible - foilists in particular. Epee fencers are tall with long stork-like legs and orangutan arms to outreach their opponants. But it's the saber fencers that combine the explosive strength with lightning speed and I love what their sport does to their bodies.

You can keep your anorexic waif models and little bitty gymnast sprites. I revel in a woman whose body shouts her strength and femininity, whose rounded curves sheathe hard muscle and strong bone.

sheerahkahn said...

Well, FD, as you remember from ID, I'm a swordsmen, fencing, and broadsword (would love to learn longsword, but thats another subject altogether) and even though I totally agree with you about the merits of todays fencing, I'm of the mind that the skills being exhibited compared to way back when really doesn't matter anymore.
For me, the skill level in saber is limited: Rush your opponent, snap your wrist so the thin bladed saber bends over your opponents blade and arm, tap your oppenents vest, and voila, point.
Epee at least retains some of the skills of fencing, but for the saber duelists of today...pfft...useless.

Nice bod, but thats about it.

One thing I will disagree with you on and that is the source of power for sword combat. "Real" saber, and in fact broadsword as well, generates a lot of force for the blade from the waist...the wrist, arm, and shoulders all have their part, but that part is mostly to hold the blade with a certain amount of "flexible rigidity."
The primary difference between the saber and broadsword is also the cut: The saber is a "slashing" cut, verse the broadswords "crushing" cut.
For me, though, and I think the most elegant is the rapier with main can stab, slice, cut, dance, pose, and sing if you want all while looking good.
Damn, rapier is a sexy weapon!
Lisa, everyone was lithe back when...however, upper body strength was ever crucial, as well as lower body strength (quads, etc). As for swordsmen, and a few women, archeologists have found that it was easy for them to determine which hand the skeleton held the sword in...the bones in that arm were denser, and somewhat larger in diameter than the other.
Rather interesting considering what we're being told today about exercise and bone density.

Lisa said...

Thank you Chief and sheerahkhan--I've learned a thing or two about fencing!

Chief, this is a statement that every woman reading one of those women's magazines would love to read and believe:

"You can keep your anorexic waif models and little bitty gymnast sprites. I revel in a woman whose body shouts her strength and femininity, whose rounded curves sheathe hard muscle and strong bone."

God bless you!

sheerahkahn said...

OMG,I completely looked over the cheerleaders!
Thanks to Lisa for pointing out the key graf:
"You can keep your anorexic waif models and little bitty gymnast sprites. I revel in a woman whose body shouts her strength and femininity, whose rounded curves sheathe hard muscle and strong bone."
Good lord, how could I do that?
Just goes to show you where my head is me a sword, or talk about sword work and I totally loose all perspective.
I'm a big fan of strong, physically fit woman, and waifish women with svelt figures, too; but when a woman looks like she could snap me in two...yeah, I draw the line right there.

Lisa said...


You demonstrate that men tend to be monomaniacal and a bit fixated, which I s'pose is part of their charm. You can be quite passionate about those things that interest you.

You also show that most men basically like an array of women, except the Amazon who might suffocate the recipient of her affections.

That is a good thing for women to remember. That men generally are not so narrowly focussed on particular types that they cannot find redeeming qualities everywhere, right?

sheerahkahn said...

"That men generally are not so narrowly focussed on particular types that they cannot find redeeming qualities everywhere, right?"

Absolutely right!
Tall, short, thin, fat, fit, or couch-potato women have the "it" going on for them that no man can ignore...don't know why that is...hmmm...but...yeah, unfortunately for me, I tend to get distracted by the pointy, long shiny things...god, I'm a geek for swords and swordwork.
FD, save me, and chime in here anytime!

Lisa said...


Again, it is heartening to know that men can see the good in each (provided there is good there.)

Well, we won't analyze your fixation, other than to say they are manly pursuits and you're at a manly blog, after all! And fencing was the topic. Chief just happens to also have an eye for the ladies ;)

FDChief said...

Lisa: as my beloved would say: I don't care whre you work up an appetite just as long as you come home to eat.


srv said...

I still can't figure out it diving is the sport or the gratuitous showering scenes after every dive are.

Lisa said...

srv: I think it is a seamless (seemless) whole.

Chief: right-o.

protected static said...

I was just discussing this the other night over dinner - fencing certainly has changed in the (dear Ghu) twenty years since I last wiggled wire in any meaningful capacity. Back then, saber was still men only (though starting to change), and what you saw in saber bouts then was much closer to whirling blows and smashing cuts. Blows were delivered overhand, rushing down from on high, as you charged down the piste, bellowing at the top of your lungs.

*sigh* You can't do that any more.

Epee also stands in for the 'small sword' commonly carried by 18th century officers; it is during this time that fencing as we know it arrives, though it dates back to the predecessor of the small sword, the 16th century rapiers.

It's interesting (to me, anyway) that fencing and ballet emerged as formalized forms at around the same time.

Okay, enough pedantry... Followed you over here from Balloon Juice.