May 01, 2006

Setting the Bar High



Setting the Bar High

Since Russian sport seems to be witnessing a track and field revival (see page 13), it is worth looking at this topic from a linguistic angle. The bard Vladimir Vysotsky dedicated several songs to the Queen of Sports (Королёва спорта) as some like to call track and field (including Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, at Moscow’s 2006 World Indoor Championships, where he added the prefix, “Her Majesty”).

Begin with a misnomer: лёгкая атлетика. Literally “light athletics” or even “easy athletics,” track and field is anything but easy. Just watch long-distance runners cruising at their 10,000 meter pace – roughly equivalent to what we mere mortals call our 60 meter sprint pace – and you see that лёгкая атлетика is in fact very тяжёлая (hard). Note: in sports terminology, тяжёлая атлетика is weight-lifting.

In one Vysotsky sports song (OK, dedicated to a speed skater, but applicable to track anyway) the hero admits to overestimating his physical reserves, as a result of which he burned out:  “I made my kick in the 10,000 meter race as if it were a 500 meter run – and I flattened out” (“Я на десять тыщ рванул, как на пятьсот, и спёкся”).


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