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Sport and Art are Inseparable

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“Nastia the Gymnast” is one of the Bruce Larsen sculptures featured on the grounds of the United States Sports Academy. The sculpture represents former United States gold medal gymnast Nastia Liukin. Photo: USSA

By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |

Sport is, and will always be, connected to art. Sport is an expression of humanity such as art. It is an expression of human spirit in its many forms. It is part of human nature to want to compete and test one’s limits. We want to challenge ourselves and push our limits. This is what athletes do daily and what they live for. They push human potential to its extreme limits and help us evolve, physically and psychologically. In many ways, art does the same.

Sport has been around since the beginning of humanity. The gladiators of ancient Rome were early athletes. Martial artists in the eastern hemisphere have been around for ages, and were also early athletes. There are many examples of sports in the world history. People have always sought to compete, and these pursuits have been documented in many forms of art. These include painting art, sculptures, movies, music, and many other art forms.

Some sport artists are almost legendary. Just think about paintings like “Sunday’s Hero” by Ernie Barnes or “Road to Beijing” by Charles Billick. Some other amazing sports artists include LeRoy Neiman and Edgar J. Brown. Others are not mainly known for their sport art, such as Robert Wyland, but have painted sports themed paintings. There are countless of more or less known artists painting or sculpting about sports in many different forms. All Olympic games and other known competitions display artwork in their promotions. Art is always an inseparable part of these events.

Music is also a permanent fixture in sports. It is used to inspire the fans during football games or in soundtracks in sports themed movies. Who could forget the “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor in the “Rocky III.” We have heard Queen’s standards “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” at sporting events. Some sports such as figure skating are even performed with music. The music selections are very important part of the athletes’ performances in these types of sports. Many athletes also use music to relax and help to concentrate before games or athletic performances. Music, therefore, is very much a part of sport as well.

Sport and movies have been a long tradition in the United States. Some notable movies include “Hoop Dreams” (1994), “Raging Bull” (1980), “Rocky” (1976), and “Bull Durham” (1988). More recent ones include “The Way Back” (2020), “I, Tonya” (2017), and “Creed” (2015). Another notable one is “Moneyball” (2011). These movies have given us glimpses behind the scenes of sports, and shown us the struggles of many athletes. They have entertained and inspired us, while some of them have made us think deeper about humanity and what we are all made of. Movies are the window to where many of us cannot otherwise go, and a way to tell stories that move us. Sports continue to give us these stories worth making movies of.

Artists and athletes are similar in many ways too. They both make sacrifices to do what they love to do. They both endure years of practice to fine tune their skills. Both artists and athletes know that the road to fame and wealth by doing what they do is hard and success far from guaranteed. Some make it but most don’t. They both struggle and endure because they love the challenge and lifelong pursuit of excellence. Artists and athletes are intrinsically motivated. They engage in their activities for the sake of enjoyment and inner drive that pushes them. It is, at the end, all about their expression of humanity.

Dr. Tomi Wahlström is the Provost at the United States Sports Academy.

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