I’ve been taking sneaky breaks from other tasks to watch the Winter Olympics from Sochi. This is partly in homage to my Dad, a keen skater, who imparted to the wider family a love of figure skating and ice dancing which still gets us gathering round televisions whenever there’s some good skating to watch.
And what good skating there has been! I keep meaning to switch off and go and do other things, but I have been mesmerised by the skaters, both pairs and solo. It’s a tribute to their grace and skill that I have enjoyed watching despite the irritations of the recorded music, which doesn’t seem to have moved on much since the days when music of entirely different types, moods and keys was patched together to make a ‘short programme’ with several clumsy musical gear changes. These days there’s a new problem: sophisticated editing has made it possible to take musical classics and fillet them so that individual phrases are unnaturally sewn together, missing out transitions in order to create a precisely-timed medley of ‘the best bits’, or at least, bits of appropriate length. I constantly find myself wondering whether the skaters know the original music and if so, how they can bear to practise day after day to mutilated versions. For me it’s like listening to a beautifully written speech with half the verbs and conjunctions missing.
Despite the musical annoyances, I feel I benefit from watching top athletes on the ice rink, the ski slopes and the half-pipes. There’s always something to be learned from watching people do complicated things ‘effortlessly’. With some notion of the difficulties provided by those who stumble or take alarming falls, one can begin to get an idea of what’s involved in rising above the physical challenges. In some mysterious way, what one learns from watching, even on television, feels as if it’s transferable to other spheres.