Olympic Writing · 9 August 2021

The 2020 Olympics is over now, so I thought it would be fun to think about a new Olympic sport.

I am always amazed at the skill and athleticism of Olympic athletes. They are incredible. They run, jump, throw, spin, vault, twirl, row, and a whole lot more. And that is just warming up. Seriously though, they are incredible athletes. But the thing I see most in athletes, especially Olympic athletes, is their incredible durability. Not only do their bodies take a pounding for years on end as they train, their minds and spirits do as well. They have expectations upon expectations upon expectations heaped upon them. Some of those expectations are thrust upon them by governments or sponsors or coaches or parents or any number of outside elements. Other expectations come from inside. And whether they wilt and fade or grow and persevere does not really matter to me. (As unfair and uncaring as it sounds, watching each athlete go through ups and downs, successes and failures, is part of sport.) That they go through the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical trials to get to the top of their sports is more than enough to applaud each and every athlete who competes honorably at the Olympics. They deserve our applause. And our thanks. For we get to watch amazing athletes do their amazing things for a few days every four (or five) years.

But back to my thought of a new Olympic sport. I think it would be amazing (but I think it would be a mistake) to add Olympic writing as a new sport.

Think about it. Men and women would compete at writing a perfect piece of prose fiction in a single half hour sitting. The play-by-play and color commentary would be fantastic. (Where is that sarcastic font?) I can hear it all now.

“Well Keith, here we are with the newest Olympic sport. Perfect prose.”

“Right Howard. And boy do we have a showdown here in the finals. Two Americans and a Russian.”

“And what a selection of judges. Azimov, Dostoevsky, Dumas.”

“I think you pronounce that Doo-ma.”

“That’s what I said Keith, Dumas.”

“The ‘s’ is silent Howard.”

“At any rate, we have a loaded group of judges to read the hopefully perfect prose by our three competitors.”

“Well, you know who my favorite is. The American.”

“Keith, there are two Americans.”

“Right. I mean the older one. Twain. He has always cracked me up. That frog story of his…”

“You mean The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, short story, of course.”

“Of course, Howard.”

“And you do realize Keith that we are supposed to be unbiased commentators, right?”

“I am unbiased. I just like Twain.”

“Well, you heard it folks. Our first competitor is none other than Mark Twain. He needs no introduction.”

“But you gave him one anyway.”

“That is what we do Keith.”

“Right. What do you think about the heavyweight Russian, Howard. That Tolstoy fellow is a great writer in the minds of just about everybody, but he puts me right to sleep. The tomes he writes. Boy howdy. They’re best for pressing flowers and such.”

“And the last competitor in the finals is Miyoshi. Nobody knows how he got in the finals.”

“Must have bribed a judge, Howard.”

“I hardly think that possible or probable. Well, there you have our field. They are sitting down at their typewriters and keyboards getting ready to write their prose. Tolstoy is sipping his tea as he contemplates how he will begin once the competition starts. Twain is smoking his cigar…”

“Looks more like he’s chewing it Howard. I think they asked him to keep it unlit for the duration.”

“Right you are Keith. And there’s the upstart Miyoshi just sitting there. I hope he ends up with more than a blank page at the end. He is up against the best of the best.”

“This reminds me of when I was a youngster preparing for sports. But we used different gear than what they’ve got in front of them.”

“That’s right, Keith. And they use their brains more than some people I know.”

“What’s that Miyoshi kid written anyway? I don’t know if he really knows how to write at all let alone use his brain.”

“We shall find out soon enough.” A bell sounds. “And they’re off. Miyoshi is typing like crazy. He is like a madman at that keyboard. Typing, typing. Look, he’s got more than a line already in the time it took for me to say that sentence.”

“Well Howard, I think he just wrote what you said.”

“Never mind that. He’s off to a great start. But Twain is just sitting there chewing his cigar. No wait. He’s started typing now. He was apparently just thinking of his beginning.”

“Speaking of beginnings. How did you get your start in broadcasting Howard?”

“Never mind that Keith. You’re supposed to be giving us the color commentary.”

“Well. There seems to be a blue haze around Tolstoy. Or maybe that’s just cigarette smoke. No, wait. It’s just the steam rising from his tea. He hasn’t written a thing.”

“Right you are Keith. Tolstoy is taking his time. He must be pondering what great pontifications he will write for the judges.”

“I just think he’s taking his sweet ol’ time Howard. Seems a bit cocky to me.”

“You might be right Keith. But what’s this? Miyoshi just highlighted and got rid of a huge paragraph.”

“If he keeps that up Howard, he’s going to have a blank page again.”

“Wait a minute. He just pasted the section into a different location. He’s going at a great pace. And there’s only a few minutes left. And boy is he sweating. Literally. It looks like he ran a marathon.”

“Well, at least he’s getting stuff done, Howard. It looks like Tolstoy only has a couple words on his page. Either he’s got performance anxiety or those words are pretty hefty. He might be relying on his stature in the writing community. At least Twain has some story written. Short stories are his bailiwick after all, so this was probably a walk in the park for him. Did I mention that I think he’s funny and ought to get the gold?”

“Oh and there’s the bell. Miyoshi and Twain have finished products and Tolstoy is giving his few words as his entry, but Miyoshi has a significant amount of words more than Twain. But what’s this!? The judges seem to be indicating a foul.”

“That’s right Howard. Miyoshi just seems to have put together a piece of creative nonfiction. He just got a blog post done.”

“Wait a minute. The other judges are saying it is not a foul. He’s got enough fiction dialogue in the piece. They are ruling that it is indeed prose fiction. The question is: Will it be enough to sway the judges? Or will the weight of Tolstoy’s few words or the wit of Twain’s short story be too much for the upstart?”

“We’ll find out after these messages, Howard.”

Of course, there will never be an Olympic prose competition. For one, even though writers train, they are not really competing against anybody but themselves and perhaps the clock. Which is true for many athletes as well. But writing is certainly not a spectator sport and never will be. (Regardless of how entertaining, or not, you thought the above commentary was.)

The Olympics is certainly a wonder to behold. Rather, the athletes are wonders to behold. I appreciate their skill and dedication. I love watching them compete and hearing their stories too. And no. I would never want to see writing become an Olympic sport. In 2024 or ever.

© 2021 Michael T. Miyoshi

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