I have been watching the European Ice Skating Championships from Bern. You may not be aware that I once spent my Saturdays twirling around an ice rink. My mother had been a keen ice skater and, having found her old skates in the boxroom, I had taken it up with gusto. My aunt made me an ice skating dress in jade green, with matching knickers, which I used to wear with those thick, orange day-glo, American tan tights. As you may have guessed this was well before the introduction of lycra. Nonetheless, I thought I looked the bees knees.
I have a good sense of balance, thanks to spending most of my early childhood whizzing around on roller skates. The transition to ice skates was achieved fairly smoothly. I had lessons every Saturday at the rink in Birmingham and then spent several hours afterwards practising. My parent’s friends, whose eldest son skated, used to take me and bring me back.
My nascent career was cut dramatically short when I passed one of the exams while the son of the friends did not. They stopped taking me. To be fair, if I’d been really passionate about skating, my mother would have stepped in. While I enjoyed the exercise and challenge of balancing on two slim pieces of steel, I was, at best, technically competent. I lacked the grace and elegance so necessary in these types of sports. I was quick over the ice, had good control of the edges, but would probably have fared better as a speed skater.
As a consequence, I know my loops from my axles but, more importantly, appreciate the difficulty of the moves the skaters are executing. On television, however, one cannot fail to register their all-important speed across the ice. These competitions are all about performing under pressure. None of them are executing moves they haven’t done a thousand times. But mental toughness, as in so many sports, is generally what divides the top few competitors. Of course, we are talking here about a sport which tries its best to be objective about the scoring but a goodly dash is, inevitably, subjective. So a winning, confident smile, a cute bum or a pretty face or frock do you no harm at all.
I don’t feel it’s necessary to have taken part in a particular sport for you to enjoy watching it. Participation merely highlights awareness and imparts greater understanding. The very best sportsmen and women make their particular disciplines look easy, conveying the impression that with a bit of application we too might ape them: not so. I read somewhere that to become competent and competitive one needs to have spent at least 10,000 hours practicing. To put this into context, if we assume you spend six hours a day training, this equates to around 6 years’ full time.
So, only another 6,000 hours to go to before I catch up with Jeannie. If only it were that simple!