Sunday, October 29, 2006

So long, Schumacher

Michael Schumacher retired last weekend. In my estimation, he is among the greatest athletes in modern history. He dominated F1 racing with his unmatched combination of absolute aggression and perfect technique. There isn't a driver who approaches the corners faster or who can find a better line through a crowd. And in the rain - the great equalizer - he is unmatched and well-deserving of the title Regenkönig. He won more races, more championships, and more in a row than any other driver.

My brother made me a F1 fan and a partisan of Schumi. We watched him win in Montreal in 2003 and place second in 2001. The affection for him runs so deep that our family dog is named after him. So, it was with some sadness that I watched him finish in second place overall last weekend. The world has lost a great sportsman. And a gentleman, too.


Anonymous said...

Race car driving is not a sport. Its an activity, therefore, any participant of said activity is not an athlete.

I will not debate Shoemakers dominance of his activity though. He was the best race car participant ever perhaps.

Peter Loewen said...

Um, ok. I am not sure what your definition of a sport is, but one certainly needs the highest levels of concentration, stamina and strength to drive a car for 2 hours through corners exerting 4.5 Gs.

Anonymous said...

First of all, F1 is not a sport. Yes, it takes strength, but that alone does not a sport make. Ballet takes strength and athletic ability (more than F1), so does ballroom dancing for that matter. They are not sports. The problem with motor"sports" is that it's too hard to tell what is machine and what is man. Yes, this objection is so oft stated as to risk becoming cliché; but it still holds.

Second, F1 is so incredibly boring that it's mundanity actually, paradoxically, becomes one of the few issues that raises interest!

Third, Schumacher is not a sportsman nor a gentleman. Just ask any of the drivers who just happened to be hit by him in last races of seasons, collisions that just happened to secure championships for Schumacher over those same drivers. Or ask Alonso how he feels about this year's Monaco Grand Prix. It seems pretty far fetched that Schumacher, this paragon of athletic ability and driving skill, would suddenly lock his wheels in qualifying and stall. As it happens, he of course blocked Alonso from taking the pole. And does "team orders" mean anything to you? How sportsmanlike is that? How much of a "sport" can it be when team orders play such a role? (Italian football notwithstanding, competition in F1 is a bad joke.)

As for your dog, at least you didn't do him the disservice of naming him Belinda.

Peter Loewen said...

Come on now. Team orders occur because F1 is a team sport.

As for Schumacher's past indiscretions, he has paid for them both in fines and in lost points. He is a great competitor who tries to win every race. This is a quality of all great athletes.

Third, those who call a sport mundane have generally not watched it enough to appreciate and discern good performances. I, for instance, find soccer interminable. But it's mostly because I can't discern good methodical play from just kicking a ball back and forth.

Fourth, it's actually quite easy to work out the idenpendent effects of car and driver. First, there are two drivers for each team driving the same car, more or less. Second, there are weather conditions which reduce the importance of car performance and increase the demand on driver skill. Third, cars cannot choose lines or passing strategies. These are the purview of the driver. And across all three of these things, Schumacher is tops.

As for ballet, it is not generally done in direct measurable competition and does not involve strategy. F1, by contrast, is zero sum and does put a premium on strategy. I think these are components of a sport.

Anonymous said...

Peter, yes, I agree F1 is a team___ (fill in whatever you like). But it is so only to a certain extent. The team aspect of it is reflected in the manufacturer's championship. Ferrari would get the same number of points there regardless of the order in which Schumacher and, say, Barrichello finish. But Ferrari wanted to secure the driver's championship (an individual competition) for Schumacher and therefore cynically undermined competition, fair play and sportsmanship to that end. And Schumacher, having as much free will as next man, chose to go along with it.

The athletic/sportsmanly quality of giving it your all and wanting to win every competition is a fine line. At some point that desire risks crossing over to cheating or at least cynicism.

As for whether car or driver is more important, my point was not to undermine Schumacher's ability here. But simply to state my, admittedly conservative and puritanical, take on sports. I am not a fan of sports where equipment plays too big a role. I can still be impressed by performances, but I am more in favour of sports where it's just all about the body. Who can run fastest, jump highest, lift the most, etc?

Peter Loewen said...

Funny that you don't advocate tennis with old wood rackets, then.

And I am sure you would object to a hockey player passing off an open net opportunity to a teammate so he can bank a 50th goal.

Anonymous said...

Who is to say I don't advocate tennis with wooden rackets? Actually, being a tennis affionado, I am dismayed at the impact of technology on the sport.

The hockey analogy is interesting. I see your point. But I would still maintain that there is some difference, but I am not sure exactly what it is! How is that for forceful argumentation?

Katie said...

This seemed, at first, a discussion not worth commenting on, but, at second, an interesting linguistic-philosophical problem.

Sport is not only a result of stamina, concentration, and strength. I think the critical thing here is not the physical agility but the inherent competition. It's worth thinking about what we mean when we call someone "a good sport," for I think that's where the crux of the definition of sport lies. This helps explain why sports networks now broadcast spelling bees and poker games. (Further, the competition need not be with others; it's just as much an exercise in personal will, as when one takes her afternoon run.)

The problem of defining sport is not unlike the problem of defining art. In an anthology of essays on aesthetics, Stephen Ross offers a wonderful treatment of the problem of defining art. (I believe the essay is Arthur Danto's, but I can't remember with certainty.) There was a time when I wouldn't deign to call Andy Warhol's work "art." Upon further study and consideration, though, it became clear that sometimes this sort of elitism is improper and even illogical. We tend to reserve certain classifications for certain of our personal preferences, rather than considering the actual meaning therein. I submit that it's well to avoid this tendency.

In closing, I'd ask anonymous what, exactly, the distinction is between an activity and a sport. The terms are in no way mutually exclusive.

Anonymous said...

Katie, you make some good points. However, while competition seems to be a necessary condition for some activity to be called a sport, it is not sufficient. Are elections sports? There's certainly competition there, but is it a sport? I would say no.

I think in fact the same applies to spelling bees and poker tournaments. Surely inclusion in ESPN et al's programming is not enough to qualify as a sport. Sports networks, like other networks, are motivated by profits. People currently like watching spelling bees and poker tournaments and because of the competition inherent in these and similar activities (pursuits, whatever), the networks can get away with airing them. And they are very cheap compared to buying the rights to fill-in-name-of-high-profile-real-sport. The decision by ESPN to air a spelling bee does not in itself imply status as a sport.

On the issue of elitist definitions driven by personal preferences, I would say that my dislike for F1 is orthogonal to my not considering it a sport. There are plenty of sports I dislike and even a few nonsports that I do like. I generally favour lean-and-mean definitions. A definition risks becoming meaningless if it's applied too loosely.

Katie said...

I can't in sincerity take great issue with anything you've said here, V. I, too, have a thing for definitional precision. Perhaps I could have been more careful in my language when I stressed the importance of competition. At least we have enumerated several necessary qualities of sports, properly understood--and maybe in combination they're sufficient. Either way, I'm happy to leave things at that and call a draw.

P.S. On the subject of definitional precision, it's funny to say that there are "even a few nonsports" you like. Oh, delicious irony.

Anonymous said...

For very interesting reasons, I stumbled across this page - as a one off submission, I put it to you that the measure of a sport is in the physical exertion, requisite skill, competition, and (most importantly) set rules. F1, CART, Nascar all fit that. Further to the point, agreeing with Mr. Loewen, there is something to be said for the physical regime these men are under in order to endure that heat and perform the feats of strength.