High-performance sport is discriminatory, in the broadest and narrowest sense of that term. It is discriminatory in the careful measurements of athletes’ bodies and their physical accomplishments. And it is discriminatory in the sense that, at the turn of the 19th century, the leisure pursuits of amateur gentleman athletes were codified as its highest ideals, excluding others from being or becoming athletes. All the same, sport has, in various contexts, been used to effect positive social change. This two-sidedness – the good and bad – is termed the Janus face of sport. My analysis of athletes training in the development program at the Olympic Oval is situated within this dual legacy as I consider the ways in which athletes build relationships, identities, shared dreams, and a sense of community, all the while worrying about their physical appearance, the precarity of their careers and the harm done to their bodies through intensive training. I examine how merit is enfranchised as “potential,” and highlight the ways in which gender and notions of ethnic, racial and biological variation inform speed skating knowledges, including discourses about genetic attributes, femininity/masculinity, body types and proportions, the supposed Japanese advantage because of different pelvic anatomy or the Dutch advantage because they are slimmer. This rhetoric is powerful because it serves to naturalize difference and essentialize social, racial and/or national distinctions.
This research was supported through the Queen Elizabeth II Scholarship.