focused intensity

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A concept developed by cultural historian Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, in his book In Praise of Athletic Beauty (2006). Gumbrecht relates the experience of Pablo Morales, a triple Olympic gold medal winner in 1984 and 1992. Morales was talking at a colloquium on the athlete's body at Stanford University in 1995, and was asked why he had returned to Olympic competition for the 1992 Games, where he won his only individual gold medal. He had not been selected for the 1988 Games, and could hardly bear to watch his specialist event, the 100-metre butterfly, on television; then, watching sprinter Evelyn Ashford in action in the 400-metre relay, Morales was drawn to Ashford's face, oblivious as she was to both context and rival: ‘I saw her lost in focused intensity,’ he recalled, and in a revelatory and cathartic moment Morales had to stop watching the race and began sobbing for the lost experience of such a special feeling. Gumbrecht develops this description of the special nature of the athletic moment, equating ‘lost’ with being in a world away from everyday life, ‘intensity’ with a ‘heightening of qualities and impressions’, and ‘focused’ with both the capacity to shut out distractions and an openness to the prospect of something happening. For Gumbrecht, to be lost in focused intensity marks ‘a stunning, complex, precise formula through which…[the athlete]…links the fascination of watching sports with the motivation of performance’ (p. 51). See also flow.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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