So I’m watching the long-jump events where Marion Jones, who according to NBC’s coverage is one of four athletes participating in these Summer Olympics, is having trouble with the launch line. Her first jump is a foul, with the end of her foot well past the line; her second and third jumps have her toes just barely on the board, well short of the line, robbing her of measurable distance in the sand.
And it occurs to me that the ability to start some distance away from a line, accelerate to a full sprint, and put one’s foot as close as possible to that line in mid-stride is a skill in and of itself. I mean, we all know how to jump; we know pretty much instinctively that to get more distance we have to have a running start. But this specific competition demands a couple of very specialized skills that require extensive practice: stepping just shy of the line, and more importantly the ability to land in a sitting position, with feet extended, and still let one’s butt continue forward to land in front of the heels instead of falling short.
And diving’s pretty specialized, too. Sure, anyone can jump off a ledge into the water. But how many of us can jump off the ledge in such a way as to deliberately put our bodies into a wildly spinning gyration?
And then pole vaulting came on.
Another way to think about it, I guess, is to identify the sport with the biggest chasm between the experts and the jamokes. I imagine there aren’t a lot of casual pole-vaulters above seventeen feet, for example; the talent required to be one of the elite isn’t really something you find out about by accident, and it isn’t something you can apply to much else except that specific sport.
Does my question make sense?