We are living in the age of the super athlete. These men and women are portrayed as Gods who walk amongst us, the aspirational marketing man’s rapture; a perfect storm of grace, power, fortitude and perhaps more importantly, saleability.
Adharanand Finn, the author of the book Running with the Kenyans perhaps summed it up best with the following statement, “Respect to Kipchoge, and I’m glad he’s getting all the credit. But I’m still not clear what’s been achieved here? Could he have run that in a real race? If it was science, why did the other two drop so early? If it was the athlete, shame he didn’t do it in a real race. Every fast marathon from now on is followed by a “but”, including this one”.
Last week, with the alpinist world still smarting from the death of Ulei Steck perhaps the ultimate embodiment of the aspirational athlete, Killian Jornet Burgada climbed Mount Everest twice in one week without the assistance of oxygen or fixed ropes. The trail and ultra world fell over itself with platitudes and perhaps a degree of self-congratulation: “He is one of us!” and if Killian can conquer Mount Everest then perhaps we all can, right? I would suggest to you all that whilst yes, we should acknowledge or celebrate the extraordinary; we also need to temper this standpoint with a degree of realism. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be.
People will; regardless of our views, continue to push the boundaries of their physiology and safety. We could also suggest that these endeavours push the boundaries of sense, however; I would encourage those of us not blessed with the triumvirate of exceptional genetic potential, situational good fortune to maximise this potential, and the financial support of a multinational sporting conglomerate to consider that this extra-ordinary should not be regarded as the new ordinary. The marketing angle and sponsor benefit of these attempts should not be ignored. I am of the view that when we push ourselves past what we thought possible our own efforts stand up as tall as either of these feats of derring-do. In regards to both Jornet and Kipchoge’s recent exploits, Finn’s initial question is especially important… “I’m still not clear what’s been achieved here?”