The First Perfect Score
In 1976 this little kid won the first ever perfect score of 10.00 in gymnastics and I saw it on television.
She was fourteen, and I was twelve, and her name was Nadia Comaneci.
I am not going to tell you her Wikipedia story here. I am not concerning myself here with what she was and what she became. And you can look at the video and judge for yourself.
There was some controversy about the decision to award her a perfect score. Firstly she had already won a perfect score and there was some pressure on her and the Olympics that she should do the same there. And despite the controversy the display made to show her score was made with only three digits. So the best score she could achieve, according to this electronic device, according to the unspoken rule of the Olympic decision-makers, was 9.99. So when her score came up it was written as 1.00 and I think people didn't clap for a while.
Secondly, I do know nothing about Olympic judging and obviously cannot tell, but somehow it does not appear to me to be a perfect performance. But thirdly, I am thinking about the principle of a perfect score. It seems odd to me. If you simply have to be the best to win a sports game, then what is perfect. We will never know now, because instead of keeping her score beneath perfect, or instead of changing the rules of the game to reflect the new conditions, the game continued, without growth, without development.
Of course, after this came many controversies, including revelations of drug-use amongst athletes, and also many rule changes, including one that changed the minimum age of an athlete competing at the Olympic Games to sixteen. There were controversies about many things, few of which will ever be revealed to us.
But look at this girl, look at her perform this gruelling sport, it is like a dance to her, she is in complete control. Look at her face, it is impossible to suspect her of doing anything but a display of majesty. It makes me think about genius, and the limited way in which we judge what it is. We say generally that a person with an aptitude for mathematics is a genius; really it is as limited as that. But actually it is a person with an aptitude for patterns; in abstract figures such as letters, numbers, shapes, in abstract concepts such as literature or peace, and isn't it also an aptitude in movement? She has mapped a space in which to perform complex movements in her mind, not through her eyes. At times she is moving too fast to see.
I'd like, in my lifetime, to see a change in the concept of intelligence, and genius, I'd like to see a change in the Nobel Prize, I'd like to see it wrested from the grasp of the Nobel Committee because I think they've not moved with the times, not allowed the Prize to grow. I think they've also made some bad decisions, and I hope that in the future we have no Nobel Prize for Peace because peace should never be a prize. Also the only peace is when we do not have war or conflict, and that is the people, us, not fighting it for their masters, and there have been so few years when we have refused the ignomy and therefore had the right to receive it.
I love this girl, this fourteen year old girl, Nadya Comaneci. Because when I was twelve a fourteen year old girl ruled the world. I do understand why young children are no longer allowed to enter the Olympics, it is because we exploit children. But I can tell you, from this memory of Nadya, that taking children out of the sport we see on television has been a big mistake. And also, now that there is such a problem with drugs in our games, why not take the television cameras away from those games for a while, and let us watch the children, see which ones we can be sure are going to make it.
But I am also wondering about this drugs in sport problem. I think that there must be a few really big heroes for every generation, that get torn down, that get exposed and being less than we thought, that disappoint us. I don't think we can really blame those footballers completely for their abuse of their hero statuses. The companies, the clubs that run them, they have been more abusive. But I don't think we can even blame them, completely. They may tell you that “everyone” was doing it, and I would not be surprised. That all the football teams in America are now looking the other way, that all the soccer teams in England are hiding in lockers, that all the volleyball players are wondering why the basketballers were so big when volleyball is strategically a superior game.
Did you ever notice how basketball is played on a shared territory? Well in volleyball there are two “countries”, and you win by losing – by losing the ball onto the other team's country. With basketball you win by being tall, and you pat the ball up into a ring. With volleyball you generally find yourself in agony as you slam the ball using the most vulnerable part of your inner arm. If you are good at that nobody will ever hit the ball in your direction. So to be good, you have to be able to get a ball that is moving from behind you, jump up, hit it, as it's coming toward you, not backward but forward and then slam it down over the net. Aside from that, it's not just a few star dudes who are allowed to dunk accompanied by others who just make a crowd. It's a team game and nobody really wants to be at the front of the net because it hurts so much.
Well for a time when I was twelve I dreamed of being Nadya Comaneci but I couldn't because I wasn't a gymnast. Wasn't fast, either, or brilliant, or dedicated or strong. And when I did stuff my eyes did not light up as brightly as hers did. So it was pretty clear, even to me. They have this high school baseball here in Japan, the sport of the country that beat them, the sport of the country that dropped devastating bombs on their people, and they play this game of baseball with total love and dedication. The kids are stars, not Justin Bieber kind of stars. Ichiro kind of stars.
These kids' baseball games, they are on television and I cannot describe the enthusiasm that people have for these games, there are times that the country just about stops for them. These kids are absolutely – well they are stars, the brightest stars. Teams from around the country compete, of course, and the best teams face off in a tournament, it's on the TV, it's on the radio, people crowd in to see it. It's fantastic. We should send our football teams over to watch them, they'd be ashamed of their lazy ill-mannered ways toward their fans.
Anyway that was Nadya. On a day when a young man faces a hundred years of solitude for doing something an older man should have done a long time ago, I am thinking of Nadya and that perfect score.