THE MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION
There is danger in sport. "Danger and delight," wrote John Lyly in 1578, "grow on one stalk." And, wrote John Milton 56 years later, "Danger will wink on opportunity."
Britain's Donald Campbell, who holds the speed record on water of 260.35 mph, winked at opportunity last week and smashed his car (considerably) and himself (somewhat) when aiming at the world's land speed mark of 394.2 mph.
Why do sportsmen try at such risk to conquer space and time—and fear? For glory, yes, for practical reasons and for the flag, too. Donald Campbell, before he came to the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, said he would like to "flutter the flag a bit for Britain," renew his love affair with the American West and push back the frontiers of automotive engineering. He is a sort of sports commando, as are men and women in other fields of sports adventure.
Some call them foolhardy; we call them brave. A few moralists question their right to risk their lives; we feel that so long as they are taking calculated risks without obvious danger to spectators or others in their path, it is their privilege and their honor.
Campbell said in England before he left for Utah and his near-tragic trial that he doesn't like "uncalculated risks. There is always a factor of ignorance in these projects," he added, "even after a design is tested and re tested, and to my nervous mind that is enough danger."
Men climb mountains and fail, or succeed, and go on to harder challenges. Of his own effort to better John Cobb's land record ( Cobb was killed when his speedboat disintegrated on Loch Ness in 1952), Donald Campbell also said: "The whole idea is a little like climbing a mountain, but there's no summit to it. You're trying to better anything mankind has done before."
These are good words. The challenge in the dangerous sports outweighs the hazard; the triumph over fear enriches mankind as much as does the conquest of space and time.
Men are trying here and elsewhere to reach the moon, the stars and other planets, as they used to explore the seas and deserts. Campbell was right when he said, "While it's frightfully exciting to think of going to the moon, there's still a lot to be learned on this planet."
FAREWELL AND HAIL