General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
My PhD research explores bodily discipline and the cultivation of expertise in high-performance sport. I study speed skating, the sport that’s really popular in the Netherlands (and now in South Korea too) and not so much so anywhere else. Still, it’s in the Olympics! Skaters’ bodies are skillful, strong, explosive and flexible. And yet their bodies are also a source of anxiety and betrayal. Their bodies hurt; some are injured. Their bodies may not look or measure the desired way. Correct technique is painful, and success requires that bodily signals of distress be re-read. Now consider how the sport is built around future-oriented cycles. These include periodized training programs, the annual competitive season, as well as quadrennial Olympic planning. I suggest that these cycles truncate the past and present in the service of a fleeting future horizon. Time is arranged to manipulate the body just so, for a brief moment anyway. As athletes taper in preparation for competition, their bodies become faster, but movement feels stranger. Trust in the program, not trust in their bodily sensorium, is key. During the race, skaters should “leave it all on the ice.” After spending the reserve that they have carefully accumulated, they must once again build their bodies as training renews. While progressing through this sequence, athletes experience bodily strangeness, uncertainty, and surprise successes and failures. In this paper, I argue that ephemerality and ambivalence characterize skaters’ training, and their sense of their own bodies and selves.