By Susan Roberts
Watching snippets of the Olympics on TV always brings out in me some misplaced desire to succeed at something sporty. Without being negative here, I can honestly state that I’m unlikely to ever win a gold medal at any sporting activity. No, seriously – that’s the truth. Ask anyone I grew up with. I never inherited the hand-eye-ball co-ordination gene, so I can’t catch anything thrown at me. Apart from the occasional cold or flu germ coughed in my direction, that is. Now if there was an Olympic medal up for grabs for winning that… well, you get the idea.
So I realised early in life that any sporting aspirations I had should not include ball sports. That was always going to be a complete waste of time for me. But surely there had to be other sports I could conquer?
As a ballet kid, the only sport close to what I did was gymnastics, but my puny little arms couldn’t quite support my body weight. Like the rest of the world, I fell under the spell of Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut in the 1972 Munich Olympics, but it was in 1976 – the first year that we had television in South Africa – that Romanian Nadia Comaneci dominated the world at the age of 14. Same age as me, but nothing like me. Comaneci’s unprecedented perfect 10 score for her performance on the uneven bars was the first in modern Olympic history. What magnificent gymnasts both those girls were; teenagers who forever changed the face of the Olympics in just a few minutes.
So I was never really going to be serious competition for either of them, was I?
I took up running. Having grown up in Pietermaritzburg, memories of cold mornings outside the City Hall watching the start of the Comrades Marathon every second winter had stirred in me all sorts of emotions about long distance running. It didn’t last. Or rather, I didn’t last. Long distance running would have been fine, except that the distances were just too… well… long.
And before you ask – no, sprinting wasn’t really my thing either. I didn’t have the lung or leg power for a short, fast run, despite my childhood fascination with the story of how Roger Bannister ran the first four-minute mile in the early 1950s. Even though his record was soon beaten, his milestone has remained a legend.
In fact, this got me thinking about other things that might be achieved in four minutes. In addition to my lack of sporting prowess, I’ve never been known as someone who does things fast. I must be the original “slowcoach” upon which all others are based, so it’s really quite hard to think of anything that I might conquer in less than four minutes.
I don’t suppose it really counts that while living in Cape Town a few years (all right, a few decades) ago, I developed the art of doing the four-minute make-up. In the short drive from my home to my favourite hang-out in Sea Point I could do a complete make-up in the car while driving, in the dark and without even using a mirror. Of course the results were sometimes surprising, and I had more than my fair share of Bridget Jones moments after having applied too much blusher in the dark, but hey – it was Cape Town, so it was considered artistic. Oh come on, it was the eighties – the make-up had to match the hair and the earrings.
I haven’t yet cracked the four-minute shower or the four-minute breakfast, and my workmates are used to seeing me dawdle into work more than four minutes late in the mornings. Dare I mention here that anything to do with writing takes me considerably longer than four minutes? I think that’s why the Scribbling Scribes invented the four week blog; I’m not too good at making those deadlines either.
No, some of us were not meant to do anything fast, but I do believe that making the effort turns one into a more generous spectator, though. I like to think that my inability to achieve something in record time gives me a deeper appreciation of those who really can achieve perfection on a balance beam or uneven bars, or master their time frames and beat the clock, whether at the Olympics or in their day-to-day lives.