The Olympics! Wow, what a spectacle of athleticism! Two whole weeks of honed, toned musculature performing at the top of its game and beaming into our homes across several platforms.
At the time of writing this post, early in week 2, Team GB have had some great results including an amazing Gold in the Triathlon mixed relay.
Watching this spectacle unfold, I started to look at the physiques of the athletes taking part. What a striking variety of physiques there are, even at the top level of a single (albeit multi-event) sport! Take Alex Yee - young, diminutive and wiry at 5ft 10 and 55kg. The epitome of an endurance Athlete with seemingly no unnecessary muscular bulk beyond that necessary to perform his sport. Contrast him with his French competitor Vincent Luis, a veritable powerhouse of a man whose physique looks more suited to power than endurance. He is the same height as Yee, yet weighs a whole 10kg more! (that's 22lbs in old money!!!)
On the face of it, Luis should be at a not-insignificant disadvantage against Yee, carrying that much extra weight, but his muscular strength makes up for it and the difference between them on the field of battle is negligible. Could Luis tip the balance between their performances by losing a kg or 2? Maybe... But that isn't really where I am heading with this post...
The fact is, here are 2 men of the same height, but looking and weighing differently, who are performing within a hair's breadth of one another at the top end of sport.
And do you know what...? When you bring it down from the Elite level and get out and look at all the rest of the field in most sports, the same goes! There are men and women of all shapes and sizes out there getting along just fine, and even excelling, in sports where their body shapes/sizes may not fit the traditional ideal for that particular event.
The fact is, our performance and ability is not dictated by our outward appearance! It is chiselled by passion, dedication, and adherence to our training on top of any natural flair or capability. It is the product of taking what we are given, and optimising it for the purpose. That is what makes a champion, not being born an ectomorph or mesomorph!
We as a society have come a long way in the last decade or so in portraying sport as something for everyone, but a lot more still needs to be done. And a lot more needs to be said (and not said) at grass roots levels. I am a strong believer that everyone, of every shape, size and ability, should be whole-heartedly encouraged to take part in any sport of their choosing.
We all stand in front of a mirror and criticise our own bodies. We berate them daily for not fitting into clothes the way we like, for not looking 'just so'... And we constantly compare ourselves to our peers, to celebrities, to our sporting heroes, and to unrealistic images portrayed in the media.
Instead of comparing how we each look, we should instead be looking to be the very best version of ourselves. We can look to our heroes to role model how we approach our daily lives, in particular the effort we put into our health and fitness in terms of nutrition and exercise, sleep and recovery. We may or may not be able to look like the stars portrayed across our screens, but we can, with the necessary application of time and energy, apply ourselves to our training programme like they do.
And we may never, in our own critical eyes, wipe the steam from the bathroom mirror and see an athlete, but we should feel proud of our bodies and of what they are capable.
I am an ultra-distance runner. My body carries me across distances most people think twice about driving, and does so pretty capably. Historically, it actually did it reasonably quickly as well. These days, my body bears the scars of half a century on this planet. I have stretch marks and scars from childbirth, blemishes from historic injuries, and currently over a stone of excess flab that somehow Lockdown has applied to my hips and thighs. I don't feel like I look athletic... And certainly not like an endurance runner! I have always felt I looked too heavy and muscular - far more in camp Luis than camp Yee! I was probably more physically suited to Rugby or weightlifting than running. And yet my body will still carry me those amazing distances. It has birthed a beautiful daughter, ran well in excess of 50 marathons and ultra-distance events, completed an Ironman and a marathon swim, and still somehow restores itself to keep going! I don't look pretty when I run, my style is 'heavy', and despite a running career of over 20 years, I have just one single solitary 'flying feet' photograph (from a half marathon 12 yrs ago!) as my feet somehow manage to barely leave the ground when I'm running! And yet I cannot deny that I am a runner and (somehow!!) a triathlete!
My point is, we all have amazing bodies capable of incredible things if we give them the right stimulus. We need to encourage everyone to give freedom to their inner athlete, regardless of their outward appearance.
I encourage you to start by cheering yourself on a little more, and encouraging your own good habits, and to share these thoughts with anyone else you think needs to hear it!
With love from my wobbly, flabby bits, to yours x ♥️ x