Cricket, really? I used to play tennis! Monty Python

Before I found climbing, I embraced the well trodden path that is establishment education: as little classroom time as possible countered by as much time on the sports field as possible. The intended purpose, from the draconian-ists, was to no doubt offer a balanced mind / body development...a healthy body forms the base for a healthy mind – yadayadayada. Of course there are other facets of the education which go hand in hand with sport, the competitive mindset and the need to win.

Fortunately I never was all that competitive :-)

As I write this, our national cricket side has just dished out a series hiding to the injury plagued West Indies and Australia narrowly missed re-writing the record books with the most consecutive test wins, being beaten by a very motivated and inspired touring Indian team. Now I have always maintained that I support two teams in world sport: South Africa...and anyone playing the Aussies! In reality it is a tribute (perhaps backhanded, if you will) to their competitive culture that I admire. The Aussies always seem to win, and never give up without a fight. Their loss to India was no exception – right to the end, as they stared defeat (and a missed record) square in the eyes they attacked with intent. They competed to the bitter end.

And as the super 14 draws near, I await it eagerly, for as long as I can remember, it was expected to support a team, wearing their badge on your sleeve (perhaps this is the result of being schooled at a school that rarely won the encounters on the scoreboard), and there is no question that it is perfectly acceptable to scream obscenities and elation (depending on the situation) at a small rectangular inanimate box at that! If I'm lucky, this year's final will not send me to therapy!

But that, after all, is the point of sport. Winning. Beating ones opponent. Lauding the victor, forgetting the conquered. Winning the spoils.

Motor Racing, bull-fighting and mountain climbing are the only true sports, the rest are mere games - Hemmingway

Hemmingway's quote has been used many a time, I recognize it from my own use. BUT, I'm going to show a rare act of boldness, and proclaim that he is, now, mistaken. Hemmingway wrote that in an era when sport was more about honor, integrity, skill and camaraderie. These days it is about money.

Hemmingway wrote that in an era when sport was more about honor, integrity, skill and camaraderie. These days it is about money.

[Mountain] climbing, has always been a little different though, a sparring match of skill, courage, luck and vision between the animate, and the inanimate (to all intents and purposes mountains are inanimate regardless of how much character they have). Often the mountain's greatest defenses is the weak mind of its suitor who wilts in the shadow of history, the unknown (and often the known) and a lack of belief. When the climber loses his courage to envisage success, the mountain wins. Sure there have always been little 'side-bets' – 1st to do this, 1st to do that, but the overriding theme has always been about the journey, the personal pilgrimage of the climber, overcoming the trials (mental , emotional and physical) which the journey demands. The actual, real-time success has always been secondary. Either you got to the top, or you didn't. The honor came in admitting the style, and embracing defeat (when it comes) while modestly being thankful for success.

It is ironic then, that this year sees (lead) climbing being accepted and recognized by the International Olympics Committee – the Knights Templar of the grail that is competitive sport, where winning is the goal, and the journey only of consequence should you get caught using performance enhancing drugs. (The lesser irony is that many competitors in the [lead] climbing arena will fail the marijuana test...and we all know how performance enhancing THAT is!) So now we have been embraced by the IOC, recognized by a bunch of bureaucratic non-participants whose greatest personal journey will undoubtedly be down memory lane. Or to their Zurich vault. We as a community, our culture as a brotherhood has now the honor of acceptance, the nod-of-approval...from the very same people who, after much deliberation, deemed carbon-fibre legs to offer a performance enhancement to a hundred meter double amputee sprinter!


God forbid that some plastic surgeon finds a way of making the prosthetics appear 'normal', as with masking agents...imagine the hordes of blood-thirsty winners rushing to get their legs chopped off and hope not to get caught (forgive the pun) at the finish line.

There will be many disappointed racers out there when they discover that while the carbon may 'offer an aerodynamic advantage', what Oscar (Pistorius) has in his head and heart can neither be replicated, nor measured. And while he may never be afforded the opportunity to compete in an Olympic event, against the 'élite' athletes of the globe, their insecurity of competing against him, their fear, is nothing more than a validation of their own failure – as athletes, as comrades. As sportsmen.

To get back to Hemmingway and climbing. I propose that 'sport' does not do the essence of climbing, the personal battles we all face, the justice anymore.

True climbing is personified art.


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