Dromology, Paul Virilio's term for the logic of speed, shares a common root with the word dromos, Greek for 'running' or 'race'. So it comes as no surprise, then, that dromology finds its sportocratic manifestation in Baron Pierre de Coubertin's modern revival of the ancient Greek Olympic Games.
Citius, altius fortius — the Olympic motto urging one to be swifter, higher, stronger — is in each of its facets a quest for speed: citius, the flat out speed of a race over some geographical distance; altius, the accelerating speed of an individual in search of escape velocity on a vertical leap; fortius, the ability to twitch a bundle of muscle fibres to move an object and then quickly recover for the next potential action. The imperative element of the Olympic motto — swifter, higher, stronger — suggests that the Olympic Movement, and its modern notion of Progress, commands us to ever-higher degrees of speed.
For the most successful in their quest, speed and capital become interchangeable in a process that began at the climax of Cold War sport and politics, the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. With the Cold War's denouement, and the corresponding acceleration of global capitalism, successive Olympic Games have come to embody a new de facto Olympic motto: citius, altius, fortius, copiosus. As Maverick and Goose exhorted in the hypermilitary Hollywood movie Top Gun, which hit theatres shortly after the L.A. Games ended, we must "feel the need, THE NEED FOR SPEED!"
Their message is far-reaching.
Our chrysalis digitalis, the silicon silk that numbs us to conscious engagement with the new Olympic motto while protecting us from comprehending our posthuman metamorphosis, does not currently extend to the developing nations of the planet, which makes the sight of the African marathoner all the more poignant. He understands the message.
The marathon, that tragic run of the soldier Pheidippides, who brought news of a Greek military victory over the Persians before his collapse and death, is today equally as dramatic as a quest for speed, though this quest for speed is measured over a much greater distance than the fast-twitching, explicitly techno-scientific cyborgism of the sprint races.
Citius, altius, fortius, copiosus still holds true over the 26.2-mile distance, and in this regard the African marathoner serves as a metaphor for the developing nation: multitudinous at the front of the pack, each one vanishingly lean, desperately, stoically, questing for speed/capital, but having such great distances to overcome relative to the hypermuscular sprinter and the lipidinous spectator. The more desperate this particular quest for speed becomes, the more this multitude disintegrates before our very eyes.
Some notes from my first ever visit to Woodbine Racetrack the other day:
Powershift at the Races
Interesting example of Toffler's Powershift thesis at work. In the case of Woodbine, it does not charge admission to the racetrack, instead making its money on gambling and concessions. Of particular note in the latter category is the Official Race Day Program, which promotes on the front cover that "Admission And Parking Are Always Free" and is symbolic of the shift from Toffler's second stage of power — wealth — to his third stage of power — information.
Woodbine derives neither its power nor its profits from the capital that is concentrated in the racegrounds proper. Rather it is through the control of information that Woodbine asserts itself: it is flatly impossible to do a decent job of wagering on the horses without the sophisticated information contained in the daily racing form; it is equally assured that the majority of track goers do not want to share their programs — and their scribbled meta-analyses of the information contained therein — so that they may retain as much of an edge as possible against the betting odds.
So Woodbine, then, possesses intelligence that its patrons absolutely must have and are unwilling to share amongst themselves. The sheer volume of information contained in the Woodbine track database virtually guarantees that competitors won't be able to threaten its monopoly. And at a couple of bucks a pop, printed on cheap newsprint every day, its margins are extremely high. Combine this with the gambling that takes place at various electronic terminals around the complex and it becomes apparent that Woodbine does not operate a racetrack but rather a sophisticated financial exchange market.
Now that is power.
Watching the Race
We spend most of the race watching the competing horses on the big screen television in the centre of the infield. It is only when the horses come down the home stretch that we shift our focus to the live action (aka a different camera angle). Is this final few seconds of the race the sole difference between being at Woodbine and consuming the event from an off-track betting parlour elsewhere in the world?
The horses are in many ways irrelevant to the race. It is only the information that the punters are concerned with: the handicapping data in the daily race program, the short pre-race forecasts on the in-house TV, the ever-shifting odds on the race board. Despite the sport's efforts to imbue these "athletes" with personality (in parallel to what Benjamin pointed out occurring with film actors), and although physically only a short distance away, they are actually far removed from the true locus of horseracing consumption.
In this sense, does the horse prefigure the future of the professional athlete, with its overwhelming reliance on information for its identity?
"Spiming is an ideal technology for concentration camps, authoritarian regimes, and prisons." — Bruce Sterling, 'When Blobjects Rule the Earth', SIGGRAPH 2004.
But I think there is a possibility of something even bigger: What if it turned out that an entire baseball season was scripted?
Like … let's say the nation was really depressed and troubled, and everyone became obsessed with alienation and despair. And let's say the government realized this was happening, so they decided to buoy the national spirit by secretly fabricating an incredible baseball season (the whole year — every single game). Some big, dumb white guy would hit 80 home runs; some unknown rookie from the inner city would hit safely in 60 straight games and bat .400; some aging beloved pitcher would throw 20 no-hitters. This would captivate the world, and America would forget its troubles and just embrace the National Pastime. We would all be able to feel good about something. Yet it would all be a mere construction; it would just be the government's way of distracting us from what was really going on. Reality would not exist as we know it.
Granted, this is unlikely. But it's not that different from trying to go to Mars.
Another example of what John Bale referred to as "the problem of spectators": a Canadian spectator, bare-chested and sporting a blue tutu, climbed a diving board and jumped into the pool at the men's synchronized diving competition in Athens.
Olympic organizers told The Associated Press the man was trying to send a love message to his wife by getting on TV. However, the message painted on his chest appeared to be the website address for an online gaming website.
Update: The Toronto Star continues the story today:
Bensimhon [the prankster] first made headlines in March when he burst onto the ice at the skate meet in Dortmund, clad in goggles, a tutu, ice skates and the Web advertising on his torso. His appearance shocked five-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan, who was about to begin her final program.
"My first instinct was to look for a weapon," Kwan told reporters after the meet. "I thought safety first and got off the ice. Who cares about the long program if somebody is shooting at you. It's the kind of nightmares you have. Thank God he wasn't that crazy."
Bensimhon was detained briefly but not charged following the incident in Germany, which had online skating chatrooms abuzz over whether the "tutu factor" ultimately caused Kwan to fail in her quest for a sixth world title.
Monday's Olympic infiltration came early in the blunder-filled fifth and final round at the 3-metre synchronized diving springboard. The normally flawless Chinese pair, widely expected to capture gold, collapsed when diver Wang Kenan lost his concentration, landing flat on his back. The Russian team also buckled when Dmitri Sautin slapped the board with his feet, ultimately hitting the water on the back of his shoulders.
The bizarre sequence cleared the way for the host nation Greece to come from nowhere, taking its first gold medal of Athens 2004 and its first-ever diving medal.
That will certainly make things more difficult for this man, who I am rooting for harder than I am for most of the Olympians.