Before Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile, a group of runners had been working on it for a decade and many, including scientists, considered the four minute barrier physically impossible. But once the world saw Roger do it in May of 1954, within weeks his record 3:59 was beaten by John Landy of Australia. And then the floodgates opened and a quick string of runners beat the four-minute barrier after that. Today a talented collegiate runner can break a 4-minute mile. When we see the possible, it can become inevitable
My son’s ski coach is a former U.S. Ski Team moguls champ. When I mention his name to people on the mountain, they say to me incredulously, “Have you seen him ski!!?” Yes, he rocks. And few sports have had the amazing amount of fast ingenuity and innovation that moguls and freestyle skiing has.
Here’s that I mean. Jonny Moseley won Olympic Gold in 1998 in Nagano Japan in moguls skiing. Fast and fluid and best in the world, but basically incrementally improving on what everyone already knew. He didn’t do anything remarkably different. He just executed the best on known skills and tricks – what my son calls “day-glo 80’s tricks”. For example, here is Travis Cabral a year afterward, winning a U.S. Championship in 1999 doing much the same tricks that had been repeated over the past few decades.
Then Jonny Moseley invents the “Dinner Roll” – an off-axis double rotation trick, the likes the world had never seen. He created the trick for the 1999 X-Games, perfected it, and then performed it in Olympic competition in 2002 in Salt Lake City. The judges didn’t like it, and scored it the same as more simple tricks, because they didn’t know what else to do with it. And because he spent more time in the air executing this trick, he was slower on the course. He got fourth in the 2002 Olympics, but the crowd went completely nuts. In the eyes of the world, he crushed. Here it is in slow motion (with a hilarious commentator):
Jonny Moseley’s “Dinner Roll” is now known, among those who speak the language, as a “Cork 7” – short for “corkscrew 720” and it’s a fairly basic trick these days for anyone in competition. Here’s a 12 year old doing one (fast-forward to 1:35).
Over the past ten years since Moseley smashed that border, there has been a whole new dimension of tricks and an explosion of ingenuity. Here’s Mikael Kingsbury winning the World Championship last month, March 2013.
Here’s the thing about Moseley’s irreverent ingenuity. He knew, going into the 2002 Olympics, that he wasn’t going to win with the Dinner Roll. The judges, his coaches, his teammates all reminded him he would gain nothing in points for his somewhat smart-ass trick. And he did it anyway. And because he did it anyway, he cleared the way for invention in the sport. Within six months of presenting the Dinner Roll in 2002 Olympic competition, the rules were changed to allow, and reward, inverted and off-axis rotation in the air.
Sure he would have liked to win. But pushing the boundaries of the sport was more important. Jonny Moseley said of the 2002 Olympics:
“There’s no question I was making a point; I was making a statement. I had hoped to be able to both make a statement and win, but in the end I probably sacrificed a gold for a statement. I hate to sound like I did everything for the good of the sport. I just personally couldn’t swallow the idea of going up there and doing what every single other person was doing. It wasn’t worth abandoning innovation and abandoning what is possible.”