By PETER LUNN
The season will soon be beginning for ski-ing, a sport that is said to have more adherents than any other. The following article, in which ski-ing is taken as a representative "ascetic sport," is by the captain of the British Olympic ski team, whose book on " HighSpeed Ski-ing" will shortly be published.
A study of sport is likely to cause the depresaing conclusion, that the more one excels in any one particular branch the less likely one is to enjoy it. Thus, a person who goes out for a row on a lake with his wife enjoys rowing, whereas members of the Oxford and Cambridge crews, if one is to judge from the expressions on their faces before, during and after the race, do nut.
It is the same with ski-ing."'en the novice learns to ski, he is experiencing for the first time the thrill of speed in Os finest form; for the skier, speed is not diluted by transmission through mechanism, nor its enjoyment marred by restriction to a specially prepared run.
Gradually, however, the skier becomes hardened to the thrill of speed, and he must ski ever faster if he wishes to enjoy it. Unfortunately fast ski-iAg is very alarming, and the skier eventually reaches the stage when he cannot draw pleasure from the thrill of speed without at the same time being frightened.
Little or No Pleasure If it is true that the more one practises i a sport the less one enjoys t, it is necessary to explain why people should continue to do something which gives them little or no pleasure. This is the problem of the drive behind ascetic sports, the drive which causes men to endure acute physical discomfort in order to row in the shortest possible time from Putney to Mortlake, and which causes men to undergo the dangers and hardships of mountaineering.
It is often thought that the explanation hes in the desire for publicity; this appeats at first to be a plausible theory, but it does not bear further investigation.
Although sportsmen enjoy applause, and though some find it difficult to pet.. form without it, this is not the drive which causes them to practise these sports.
The Real Drive
Similarly, almost all artists (Gauguin is the only notable exception) feel the need of showing their works to their fellow men, and are very dependent upon the resultant praise—but it is not this which causes them to paint or write.
Dickens, for instance, revelled in applause, and, as can be seen from his letters to his wife, could write little which was either interesting, comical or beautiful for an unsympathetic audience. It would, however, be ridiculous to deduce from this that The Pickwick Papers was inspired by a desire for popular acclamation.
The real drive behind ski-racing and all ascetic sports lies in the very essence et sport, which consists in the mind trying to force the body to do exactly what the mind wants it to.
The ski-racer's mind must overcome the physical reactions, which shrink from the
fastest line on steep slopes. and must keep his body under the control necessary for performing turns with complete precision.
When the racer is ski-ing well, there come moments when he knows that his mind has won and for a few brief seconds he has complete control over his body. Such moments arc rare, but it is for them that men endure the physical discomforts attendant upon all ascetic sports, for they then experience a happiness, almost an ecstasy, which has nothing in common with pleasure or enjoyment as these terms are normally understood.
At such moments, when the racer's mind and body are working in complete harmony, he catches a fleeting glimpse of that paradise which was our ancestors' in the Garden of Eden, because he has succeeded in recapturing, if only for a moment, that complete control over the body which was man's before the Fall.
Mystical Thrill And when, at the end of a ski-race during which he has experienced such moments of ecstasy, the racer feels a sudden desire to burst into tears, this may not be entirely due to the reaction of rest after strain, but perhaps can partly be explained by a sudden realisation of all that man has lost.
Itis this spiritual, perhaps almost mystical thrill, this fleeting glimpse of the paradise of Eden, which causes men to encounter gladly the dangers and hardships of mountaineering, to endure the physical agony of rowing and longdistance running, and to overcome the physical difficulties attendant on all sports.
The racer draws from ski-ing, therefore, two distinct kinds of happiness, the one a purely sensual pleasure which comes from the thrill of speed, and the other a deep spiritual happiness which comes from dominion over his body.
Art Exact Analogy
The former, as already shown, diminishes with experience, whereas the latter happiness increases, until eventually it gains such a strong hold over him that he finds it impossible to give up racing, even when he has long passed the height of his powers.
There is an exact analogy in art, which also gives two kinds of happiness, the one a sensual sentimental pleasure, which corresponds to the thrill of speed in skiracing, and the other a deep spiritual happiness, which is as powerful as it is indefinable.
This point is shown very clearly by tha following quotations from two naves; both are descriptions of a man of strong character embracing for the first time the woman he loves.