29 January 2012

Long may you run

I got thinking yesterday, after a chat with a modern pentathlete friend: if a pentathlete takes part in a pentathlon, in what does an athlete - such as I pretend to be - participate? And having little better to do this weekend than search for a llama and do the FT crossword and multiple Parkruns, I logged onto the Oxford English Dictionary (courtesy of the County Council Library Service) and found the answer.

The group of words derive from the ancient Greek ἆθλον which means a prize (but you don't get five prizes in a pentathlon, do you?), and ἆθλος meaning a contest (but surely a pentathlon, or pentathlos as perhaps it should be, is in fact only one contest?). Hmm. I have won a spot prize once, but I'm not usually in contention, except for age-group prizes at INTA. Parkrun is, as I mentioned yesterday, emphatically not a contest. We run against the clock, some of us against time itself. I have taken part in contests, but as an extra, a distant figure in a crowd scene.

My conclusion must be, disappointingly, that I am not literally an athlete. (I also made time this weekend to read a few pages on The Guardian's website, and am going to continue to consider myself figuratively as an athlete.) Anyone with whom I was at school would, of course, have told you this already.

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