Dear Cornucopia of Olympic Bodies,

The activities we do every day shape our bodies accordingly. It's why most of us exercise- the endorphins may or may not be enough motivation in and of themselves to jog twice a week, but what most of us really want are the corresponding corporal effects which we enjoy in between the jogs. We want to look like someone who jogs, we want to feel like someone who jogs, we want to enjoy the longevity of someone who jogs. We're after the adaptations which jogging forces our body to adopt.

And that's what makes the bodies in the Olympics so interesting. These are not joggers, or CrossFit devotees, or casual weight lifters. These are the bodies of people who do really weird stuff at an extreme intensity, all day every day.

Archaeologists can identify English longbowmen nearly a millennium after death based upon their skeletons alone. The nearly 200-pound pull of the heaviest longbows twisted the humerus, stretched the shoulder blades, and prompted the growth of bone spurs.

I can identify swimmers by their wide, flat, V-shaped upper bodies, giant extremities, and all the used razor cartridges clogged with body hair in their bathroom trashcan.

Of course not all of the physical hallmarks of each type of athlete are adaptive. Nearly all sports also self-select for a certain type or types of body. There are probably some great 6'4" gymnasts out there, but none of them make it to the Olympics because their big ungainly feet slap the floor when they try to make a complete rotation on the parallel bars.

Whether selective pressure or adaptive pressure, the end result is groups of crazy-looking freaks who all look crazy in the same way, all hanging out together, and I love it. The form of the athletes' bodies also tells us a lot about the sport that they play. Take the following four sports for example-

Synchronized diving, when you think about it, is mostly about falling. I mean, yes, you have to climb up the stairs to the 10 meter platform, and yes, you have to jump and turn, but let's be honest- at the end of the day, gravity is doing most of the heavy lifting. Which makes it all the more surprising that synchronized divers are so damn ripped. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you don't get a body like that from diving every day. I suspect the average diver's training day comprises three hours of diving and six hours of Pilates, P90X, protein shakes, staring into floor-to-ceiling mirrors, and tastefully erotic towl snapping in the changing room with plenty of giggling. It's an entire field of underwear models out there, and there's an undercurrent of unbridled sexuality running through the whole event that tells me those rock hard abs are more about pulling ass at the Olympic Village than jumping into a pool. I just hope special considerations have been made and the divers are getting considerably more than a normal Olympian's daily ration of two condoms and 30ml of Astroglide.

On the other side of the spectrum we've got the Olympic shooting sports. We know you guys don't need to be in peak physical condition to squeeze a trigger with a one pound pull. We know a 600-pounder could pull up on a Rascal, have an attendant position a pistol in their sweaty slab of a palm, and then win a gold medal in the 10 meter air pistol, but come on. We had a gentleman's agreement; you take a jog every other week and keep up appearances, at least within the realm of respectability, and in return we pretend that winning a gold in pistol shooting is every bit as admirable as landing a triple inverted whatever-the-fuck on the gymnastics vault. You've been slipping on your end of the deal recently.

The completely disgusting picture above comes to us by way of the poorly thought-out sport of Olympic weightlifting. The two weightlifting events in Rio are the clean-and-jerk and the snatch, both of which involve lifting increasingly heavy weights directly over your head with a heaving, jerky, eye-bulging strain of effort. It's everything anyone showing you how to lift weights for the first time would tell you not to do- sudden, jerky motions; lifting barbells to failure over your own body without a spotter; focusing on single-rep/high-weight sets to the exclusion of more balanced training. Eventually someone's going to take a weird fall and have their skull popped like a water balloon by a 470 lb. barbell on live television, and maybe, just maybe, as the crowd stares on in horror at the gurgling stump of a neck disappearing into a dent in the floor where a face used to be, those in the front rows dazed and splattered like Carrie on high school prom night by the brains, blood, and bone fragments of what used to be an Olympian's head, someone will finally whisper with a sense of alarm, "This whole thing was a bad idea."

Sometimes, when you've trained all you can train and you've prepared all you can prepare, you just run out of things to do. But preppers need to prep, and for them there are J.C. Whitney options and OCD busywork like cryotherapy, cupping, and kinesio tape. None of it's scientifically proven, and the studies that do exist generally suggest that these extraneous devices and therapies are about as effective as the pair of lucky socks which I assume Phelps won't be washing for the next two weeks. But that doesn't mean these superfluous rituals don't work great as placebos (which do have scientifically-observable effects on performance) so keep getting those Qi meridians unblocked, Michael.

Sebastian Braff


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