Jackie's IOA Journal: Contact Sports

In my last post, I gave a rundown of the average day here and mentioned the formal group discussions that we’ve been having. You may recall from that post that we also have a lot of different activities that might not seem directly related to Olympic education. Activities like the cultural nights, arts workshops, dance workshops, sports tournaments, a torch relay, literature and poetry workshops, morning exercise, a track and field competition and even a swimming gala. While these events may seem frivolous, they are actually another way for all of the participants to interact and get to know each other.

The morning exercises are organized by the Academy, but presented by different participants that have signed up to teach a sport or exercise. My new friend Maria, from Los Angeles California, used the very first morning session to teach everyone how to train off-ice for speed skating. It was excellent, as she is a former short track speed skater who was an Olympian in Torino and many people here don’t know much about winter sports. We have had several other Olympians teach the sessions, including lessons on sports like gymnastics, judo and rowing.

The dance workshops have been really great. We’ve learned folk dances from Sweden, Russia, and Italy and of course a few Latin dances too. I can’t imagine I looked particularly good doing any of them, but they were really fun. One thing I found about all of the dances was that while the music and steps were different, the general themes and concepts were the same. Dancing was almost always done in groups and often involved changing partners within the group so you could meet more people during the dance.

The sports activities allowed for a lot of interaction and some unexpected outcomes. Basketball is basketball right? Not exactly. All of the sports we had tournaments in – basketball, football (they really mean soccer), table tennis, tennis, and volleyball – were co-ed. This didn’t seem to mean much in table tennis or tennis, but it did matter in the other sports. Many of the people here had never played co-ed sports or even heard of women and men playing together. Some found it difficult, as they were so concerned about bumping into each other, especially men worried about hurting women, that they significantly altered the style of the game. Others played very aggressively, forgetting that this was meant to be recreational sport, and caused some minor injuries. A wonderful person I have met from Egypt apologized each time he came within a foot of me during our basketball game, because he had never played a sport with women and didn’t know what to do. I explained to him that I had played ice hockey with men and that there was a lot of contact, so I would be ok, but he was still very cautious.

So what is the point of all of this? It actually is more Olympic education through sport. By experiencing these things together, it generates discussion and new experiences for everyone. I can learn what it’s like to play basketball in Egypt or understand through a cultural presentation how Uruguay is different from Paraguay, two places that are often confused, apparently. It is another way to spread the message of unity, sport for all, respect, fair play and fun. Now I’m off to the track to cheer on my teammates from Group 7 – I’m doing the long jump event. It will be tough – there’s no run up – just stand and jump! Wish me luck…