Thursday, January 19, 2006

greeting team-mates on the race course

originally written for the USC Triathlon Newsletter 01-19-06

So often triathlon is made out to be a solitary sport. From sessions in the pool to the miles logged on the bike and run, you’ll often find yourself rising and training in long solitary hours with ne’er a sight of friend or acquaintance. Even in races, you’ll be obsessed with nothing more than yourself and the time on the clock.

However, it isn’t always that way…or at least, it doesn’t have to be. One of the benefits of collegiate triathlon is that you are part of a team, and can train and race in a team environment, with all the support and reassurance that comes with seeing allies alongside you. As much as the sport itself may be about individual times and performances, collegiate triathlon at least affords the knowledge of additional strength in numbers built upon the camaraderie and esprit de corps of you and your team-mates.

That said, there is no greater feeling than to be out on a race-course in the heat of competition and to suddenly come upon a fellow team-mate. Team spirit calls for a greeting, and perhaps a word of encouragement or comfort. But the problem is how best to do this, especially considering that challenges of reaching out in the middle of a swim, a bike ride, or a run.

Well, never fear, citizen of Troy. We have devised this list of options that you can exercise to use, complete with critical comments to consider. So next time you see fellow Trojan on the race course and wish to give a shout-out for the team, consider the following:

The Nod—this is the basic silent nod of the head, usually done in conjunction with eye contact. Also sometimes done in conjunction with The Salutation (see below). This is a universal greeting understood everywhere. It implies a cool, calm, collected demeanor, and gives the air of ice water running in your veins and supreme confidence in the team’s performance.

Be warned though: this can be confused with the Lance Armstrong Stare-Down, which is the confrontational act made famous by Lance on his 3rd Tour de France victory, when on an uphill battle against Jan Ullrich the laconic Texan looked over, waited to make eye contact with Jan, nodded, and then powered away to a demoralizing stage victory. This has been recorded as one of the supreme acts of self-confidence and contempt in sports history. Not the kind of thing you want to be caught doing against a fellow citizen of Troy, since you want to help your team-mates, not hurt them. The recommendation to avoid any confusion is to do The Nod with a smile.

The Salutation—the greeting with the greatest potential for creativity and expression, this can be either monosyllabic (as in “Yo”) or polysyllabic (as in “Yo, sucka, wassup?” or “Yo yo yo, punk-ass, wassup?”), and can encompass the full range of communication (from an erudite “My, it appears you have encountered your lactic acid threshold and need a 10-gram portion of electrolytes in liquid form” to a primal, emotional “Sucka, now’s the time you gotta punk somebody’s ass and rip off their heads and make them spit out their momma’s name!!!”). Highly recommended for its clarity, range, and flexibility.

The High-five—the physical act of team spirit that has been popularized and made universal in recent decades. It can be done in combination with The Salutation (see above) or any of the other physical actions described herein. Variations include the single-hand high-five (right or left-handed) or the double-hand (both hands for the ambidextrous). It implies supreme friendship, unity, and excitement in the heat of the moment.

However, it loses its potency with over-use (you do NOT want to high-five everything…like high-fiving your swim exit, high-fiving the beep of the ankle chip monitor as you enter the transition zone, high-fiving a successful strip-off out of the wetsuit, high-fiving a pop of the swim-cap, high-fiving a completed intake of GU gel, high-fiving a good strap-in to bike shoes, high-fiving a de-rack of the bike...all this and you’re not even out of T1 yet…). Your team-mates will get annoyed with you, and they may start to deliberately avoid your seeking, exploring, wandering hands. And you know what they say about wandering hands…

The Chest Bump—another physical act of team spirit common in the 90s, not so common now. Has the benefit of primal intimacy. Also has an air of nostalgia. As a result, it not only implies a spirit of passion shared with a team-mate so close as to be included in your family, but also implies the notion that you are all old-school Original Gangstas out to school your punk-ass competition right back into pre-school. While other forms of expression presented herein may be more refined and sophisticated, nothing carries the primordial, animal impact of a good firm chest-bump and a unison shout of “Ooooo-rahhhh!!!” and bestial barking.

Problem is that you can only do it with someone you really know, and who knows what you’re doing, otherwise that chest-bump will turn into a good push into the next row of bike racks. In addition, you can’t do it comfortably in a race—doing it in the swim or bike course requires a supreme measure of balance and skill, not just by you but also your fellow chest-beater. However, it can be done on the in the transitions and on the run.

The Fist—the most subtle physical team spirit acts, The Fist simply involves team-mates each making a fist and connecting them gently. May be combined with The Salutation or The Nod (see above). Like the nod, it implies a cool, calm, confident demeanor, but is also unmistakeable as an act of friendship and camaraderie. In addition, it has the advantage of being quick, easy, and easily do-able during a race, whether swimming, biking, running, or speeding through transition. The trick is to do it with someone who’s actually hip enough to know what you’re doing (believe it or not, some clueless geeks don’t).

The Butt Slap—ah yes, the butt slap. There’s nothing like reaching out in the midst of competition and putting your hand on a friend’s steamy hot sweaty butt. The ultimate display of love and affection, it lets your team-mate know that “Hey, I like you, I respect you, and I appreciate everything you’re doing.”

Made prevalent among other team sports like football and basketball, it declares a team bond so strong that it rises to a comfort level welcoming physical intimacy. A recent article in a certain triathlon magazine covered this in depth. However, it should be noted that it carries carries the risk of being seen as an act of foreplay and thereby potentially introducing you to the full power of U.S. sexual harassment law. In addition, some may see it as an manifestation of our society’s latent homo-erotic undertones (Brokeback Mountain style).

Having said that, we still believe that it’s a beautiful way of expressing your feelings, and we’d be happy to be slapped across the butt any day.

No comments: