This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
It was a tense evening at Madison Square Garden. The capacity crowd couldn't have cared less that the hockey season had just been cancelled. This was sport's epic night for these fans and they were on the edge of their seats. The swimmers were back stage, stretching and primping as the Public Announce voice boomed out in a dramatic baritone: "From; the Sporting Group, excellent swimmers, especially in icy shallow waters, Chesapeake Bay Retriever Grizzlypeake Bonanza!" As a group of web-pawed retrievers pranced across the green-carpeted floor of the Garden, a roar of appreciation filled the hall.
The 129th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show hit its stride this week. The Garden was sold out both nights. Television ratings were higher than ever. I watched with my friend's mutt Gus, a cute brown-and-white Fox Hound-looking dog, who tracks the champions as they circle with an obsessive stare, barking at the ones he likes best. Watching these pure breds with Gus got me to comparing them to human athletes and their seemingly pure-bred abilities.
The Afghan Wolfhound was bred to sit in a regal fashion, his long feathers flowing, next to the kings of the Middle East, whereas the Basset Hound was bred to use his effective, very long nose to ferret out game and then use his short legs to dig and bury the game. The soft mouth of the retrievers allows them to carry a water bird for miles and never make the slightest indentation in their feathers.
At the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, I got a chance to be trackside at the start of the men's 100-meter dash and I took a photo of the eight finalists in their crouch at the blocks, just an instant before the gun sounded. I blew that photo up later and it was interesting. All you could see was the sprinters' bodies, no heads. Flexed arms, fingers spread on the red track. Huge thigh muscles in full bend, ready to explode. Except for skin color and type of body hair, you couldn't differentiate one body from another. These were the eight fastest sprinters in the world and they were all built to burst from a dead start and reach maximum speed in about ten seconds. To be sure, they had all worked hard but this photo suggested that they had almost been bred to run fast. Then you look at high jumpers. All built precisely the same way. Long and lanky with a very high center of gravity. They are built, bred if you will, to leap vertically against gravity. I am convinced that if we could take the best sprinters and high jumpers and track their family trees back several centuries, we would find individuals who excelled at running fast and jumping high.
Most sports demand a variety of skills so we don't find a specific body that excels at golf, for example. But in the more simple action sports, such as marathon running, where one repetitive motion makes for success, bodies do tend to look very much the same. And it's not only discipline and training that makes a body take that shape. A world-class marathon runner was born with a light-boned body, able to use oxygen efficiently and sustain high speeds for long distances. A home run hitter has a certain genetic body type, too. Reggie Jackson, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron. Big forearms, powerful legs. Stick with me. I'm making a point here. Let's go back to the dog show.
My buddy Gus, the cute brown and white mutt, seemed particularly fond of an Irish Setter named Mark McGwire. Gus doesn't talk, per se, but I could tell he was sure that this Mark McGwire didn't resort to using any illegal steroids. Gus's point is that if you're lucky enough to have the God-given abilities of a pure bred, take pride and strut your natural stuff. Just as a Border Collie was born to herd cattle, Jose Canseco was born to hit a baseball. He never needed those steroids. And he certainly didn't need to snitch on all the other dogs who took them with him.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.