Poem: 'One of the Boys' describes Olympic glory for one athlete
In a former life, Boulder poet David Rothman was a ski racer with high hopes of becoming an Olympian. Here's his poem about that dream.
By David J. Rothman
“It could be over,” a small voice said,
“This part of it definitely could be over.”
Quietly, by the side of the course on Golden Horn,
Where I had leaned in a bit and stumbled sliding
Out of a fallaway GS turn, bouncing off my left hip at speed,
Then had pulled up and out to stand and watch the others go by, it whispered.
And yet a time always comes to acknowledge such a departure
From the life of a boy. For as I stood there about two-thirds down,
The others came by – Farny, Tache, Stapleton, all a year younger,
Briefly home on a break from trying to break in in a big World Cup way,
All top-seed American ranked, this just a fun way to burn the afternoon.
And one by one in them I noticed only one thing,
Not the line, good as it was, round as a hook,
Or the angles they made against hard snow, precise and true,
Or even the drive, which could be matched, but something else –
The quiet lack of sideways sound because their edges tracked
So cleanly forward along each arc, the quiet, the astonishing hush,
The small frictions most burn off sideways going only forward,
All that momentum carried like delicate crystal in the fingertips,
Down and past and gone before watches even realized what it was,
One after the other, quiet, as if their skis were muffled,
Different from how the rest of us sounded on snow that hard.
“Strive,” said the voice, “strive and strive and yet accept.”
And suddenly I became just one of the boys, not likely ever
To track like that, with such precision, not likely ever
To unlock that extra twentieth of a second less each turn.
What a joy to understand this, to see it, to measure it, almost to touch it,
What a coming to knowledge, what a realization, standing there, saying merely “Oh…”
And to be able to describe it to you now, the way it ran
Like light along the arc of each turn, the judgment of what it takes
To make such a turn from gravity, geometry, momentum and ice,
Under the blazing mid-winter sun, standing on the knoll,
The indifferent snow and mountain playing host to a few evanescent turns,
The cool air calm, a sudden, gentle sadness dawning
As it must for almost everyone eventually that this would not be my path,
That there would be no chair carried through the world’s large market place,
No such honors to wear out, then down, down,
And back into the course, feeling the old joy newly and necessarily tempered.
It was a beautiful day, a great day of skiing, a lovely afternoon in the mountains
That drew to a close as we pulled gates and slipped out the ruts,
Laughing together at what melted away thirty years ago.
We said our goodbyes and headed for home.
And yet a boy still stands by that course in the gathering twilight,
Contemplating the finer points of physical grace,
Imagining what it might take to dance a bit more into it,
To return, made whole, skis now quieted, hips somehow better aligned,
Timing just a shade finer, balance just a shade finer,
The ability to imagine and execute a faster line retooled like an engine,
The world laid out like a dozen shucked oysters,
The glittering trophies now within reach.
What a happiness! And I now long ago a man
Honor that necessary fool, one of the boys,
Just one of the boys who became a man
In part by contemplating beauty and truth
As utterly, utterly different.