Why I’m a Fan

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Or, Why is running compelling?

I followed last week's world track and field championships obsessively, something I have done since I was 14, and rarely to my benefit—there's always something more valuable I should be paying attention to, like work, or homework.

Over the weekend I came across an essay by Geoff Dyer, a writer and critic. Dyer is not a fan of track and field, at least as far as I know, but in the summer of 1991, living in Paris, he began watching the world championships on TV and found himself transfixed:

“…with the poor picture quality and the French commentary, I am often unsure of exactly what is happening (contrary extremes of passion—tears and laughter, rage and celebration—curiously resemble each other) and so, each morning, I buy an English newspaper to check what occurred the day before.”

Dyer becomes compelled: by Jackie Joyner Kersee, Steve Cram, and Carl Lewis's win in the 100 meters, which came not long after Lewis's father had died. That is to say, Dyer came to view the championships as a fan, with a sense of drama and an investment in the athletes as people. That approximates how I followed the world championships last week, though without access to a live feed of the meet. I read race reports after the fact, or scrolled through twitter for play-by-play, gasping as I realized, lying in bed early Thursday morning, that Jenny Barringer Simpson had won the women's 1,500.

“[S]port,” Dyer writes, “offers its own culture of parable, tragedy, and redemption—its own art…[It] affords the same potential for the expression of genius, passion, and vision that our culture often considers the preserve of opera, sculpture, painting.”

I think the point isn't to equate sports with art, although that parallel may exist, but instead to equate sports with the wider human experience. That's a cool idea, and may also help explain why I remain fascinated by track meets.

—Peter Vigneron

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