The Gymnast — A Parable

An unfortunate accident at age twelve ended any aspirations that Frank, his coach, parents, and others had for him competing in the Olympics. While devastating, the accident did not blunt his love for gymnastics. Though he would never again compete, he continued a rigorous physical training lifestyle. Moreover, although not his original goal, his love for gymnastics found expression in becoming the expert of experts. Initially, Frank learned historical facts about every Olympic gymnast. Later he would be able to draw historical arcs not just of the athletes, but of the teams, the coaches, and eventually the events themselves.

During college, Frank expanded his knowledge by focusing on the physics of gymnastics. In what appeared after-the-fact as a natural progression, Frank moved on to get an advanced degree in bio-mechanics, where he developed advanced software models to predict performance of specific athletes, including age progressions. Eventually, this enabled overlays of the computer modeling onto live performances.

Though this was impressive, it did not fully predict how particular athletes would actually perform in competition. To tackle that problem, while pursuing a PhD, Frank virtually created the psychology of gymnastics as a science, breaking this down into the psychology of training, the psychology of final performance preparation, and the psychology of performance. Theses he linked to the bio-mechanical models.

Frank’s enthusiasm and expertise made him the quintessential commentator for gymnastic events.

Natalie stood beside the runway to the vault. She, a 15 year old prodigy, made the final mental preparations for her last event, one that was expected to win her not just gold for the event, but overall gold for herself, and her team. We could go into the details of the Cheng she would perform and what it would take to beat the top score, but that really isn’t the point here. She would win, as Frank predicted. As she awaited the final score, and the commentators were reviewing the instant replay with computer model overlay, Frank was asked, “what is she thinking and what will it feel like for her to win this event?”

Frank responded that they had talked previously about how she, as a mere 15 year old girl, couldn’t be expected to articulate her thoughts or feelings, nor would she really even understand those feelings. She was simply too immature. When asked, she would probably say something like, “great.” By watching her body language, he articulated in conjunction with the video much more accurately what she was experiencing. After the score was posted, the reporter on the floor asked how she felt. “Great!” she said.

Frank and the commentators smiled as they exchanged glances.

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