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The Olympics of the Street

The photographs below are interchangeable with thousands of others, each of which captures something usually overlooked. I am referring to the athleticism required to get through a street demonstration that is being attacked by “police” or other military force. The image below gives one example.

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This guy is having to outrun tear gas through an obstacle course of barbed wire. He is hurling himself forward, full out, while staying focused on each step as he also looks ahead to shift direction yet again. He could be a halfback running through a drill at the NFL combine. But he’s too small for that, of course, and too old and not completely in control of his body. No surprise, as he is a lawyer in Pakistan. Although demonstrating much greater physical ability than he needs in his day job, he is strictly amateur.But the tear gas run is an international event, and so we can see younger and more agile competitors:

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This is am image Whitman could love: we see a young man beautifully active. He looks like an athlete–well muscled, balanced, gracefully coordinated–and he moves through the obstacles and the gas with speed and agility while still able to direct others. In the US, he could play quarterback; he’s from Panama, however, and so settles for the Olympics of the street.

But which event to enter? Instead of the tear gas run, many are drawn to the rock throw.

rock-thrower.jpeg

Again, this photograph shows a fine athlete in top form. You can guess that he will do well in each part of the event: the run from the crowd into the dangerous open space before the troops, the throw itself, and the run to safety from the counter-attacking swarm. This particular competitor is in Germany and exhibits the superb skill we expect of the German team. At the same time, some doubt whether he can make the adjustment from contending with the relatively civil German police to the much rougher conditions of the Middle East and elsewhere.

And so we get to the injuries. As with any Olympics, success depends on both training and luck. You probably have seen photos of Olympic runners falling or crashing into hurdles and grimacing in shock and pain. It’s the same–well, worse, actually–in the street.

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The caption for this photo from the West Bank states that the man on the ground was “kicked in a confrontation with Israeli soldiers.” From the look of it, the caption should have read “kicked in the groin.” It’s tough out there.

In some parts of the world, athletes gravitate to organized sports programs. From there, the best are then trained, challenged, and rewarded toward ever greater refinement of their ability. Their lives may become dominated by one thing while years of preparation can end in a career-ending injury, but there are worse problems to have. In other parts of the world, however, that talent–like so much talent–is largely undevloped. Walled into systems of domination, trapped in cycles of violence, and denied jobs, a civil society, and any prospect of a better future, they are left with the rag-tag activities of life in the street. In spite of that we can see moments of physical grace. That can be admired for a moment, and then we should recognize how much is being wasted.

Photographs by Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press; Arnulfo Franco/Associated Press; Michael Probst/Associated Press; Abbas Momani/Agence France-Presse, Getty Images.

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The Olympics of the Street

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