Essay: If Perspiration Could Be Quantified

In his basement an American canoeist who has converted a small coal bin into a stagnant river crouches on one knee and endlessly paddles nowhere. His sloshing is a nighttime sound of the neighborhood. A roller skate wedged beneath his forward foot simulates the bobbing boat. Old mirrors of every shape, rescued from dressers and garage sales, are suspended all around. In each of them, he checks his technique against the home movies he has taken of the Rumanians and Swedes. This is the Olympian getting ready.

The Olympian is distinguished from the garden-variety athlete, at least in the U.S., by...

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