As the Tokyo Olympics get under way this weekend, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the scenes in Diana Gabaldon's books that feature athletic prowess of various kinds.
Not all of these examples have equivalents in the modern Olympic Games, but many of them do. Hope you enjoy it!
*** SPOILER WARNING! ***
If you haven't read all of the OUTLANDER books, you will encounter spoilers below! Read at your own risk.
Jamie shrugged at me, then glanced around him. I saw his eyes light for a moment on a three-legged table near the wall, holding a tall vase of chrysanthemums. He glanced up, measuring the distance, closed his eyes briefly as though commending his soul to God, then moved with decision.
He sprang from the floor to the table, grasped the banister railing and vaulted over it, onto the stairway, a few feet in advance of the General. It was such an acrobatic feat that one or two ladies gasped, little cries of admiration intermingled with their exclamations of horror.
(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 18, "Rape in Paris". Copyright ©1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Running the Gauntlet:
[Roger] recognized the gauntlet; a double row of shouting savages, all armed with sticks and clubs. Someone behind poked him in the buttock with the point of a knife, and he felt a warm trickle of blood run down his leg. “Cours!” they said. Run.
The ground was trampled, snow packed into grimy ice. It burned his feet as a shove in his back sent him staggering into pandemonium.
He stayed upright most of the way, lurching one way, then another, as the clubs struck him to and fro and sticks lashed at his legs and back. There was no way to avoid the blows. All he could do was keep going, as fast as possible.
Close to the end, a club swung straight and took him hard across the belly; he doubled over and another swatted him behind the ear. He rolled bonelessly into the snow, barely feeling the cold on his broken skin.
A switch stung his legs, then lashed him hard just under the balls. He jerked his legs up in reflex, rolled again, and found himself on hands and knees, still somehow going, the blood from his nose and mouth mixing with the frozen mud.
He reached the end, and with the last blows still stinging on his back, grasped the poles of a longhouse and pulled himself slowly to his feet. He turned to face them, holding on to the poles to keep from falling. They liked that; they were laughing, with high-pitched yips that made them sound like a pack of dogs. He bowed low, and straightened up, head whirling. They laughed harder. He’d always known how to please a crowd.
(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 54, "Captivity I". Copyright ©1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Beat, beat, feint, a half skip back as Hal’s point lunged past his face, another, Hal was leaning too far forward--no, he’d caught himself, jumped back in the nick of time as Grey’s blade came up. A lunge in tierce, in tierce again without let, and dust flew up from the stamp of his foot on the boards.
Hal had caught what he was about; he could feel Hal’s thoughts as though they were inside his own head, feel the edge of astonished annoyance change, anger rising, then the jerk as Hal caught himself, forced himself to restraint, to something colder and more cautious.
Grey himself had no such restraint. He was happily off his head, drunk with the lust of fighting. His body felt like oiled rope, tensile and slippery, and he was taking dangerous chances, completely confident that he could elude Hal’s point, regardless. He saw an opening, dropped into a flattened lunge with a yell, and his buttoned point struck Hal’s thigh and skidded across the fabric of his breeches.
“Jesus!” said Hal, and swung at his head.
He ducked, laughing, and popped up like a jack-in-the-box, grabbing the point of his rapier so the blade bowed between his hands, then let go and snapped it off Hal’s, making the metal ring and the sword jump in Hal’s hand.
(From LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 10, "Salle des Armes". Copyright ©2007 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
From the base of Ellen’s tower to the third island was still over a quarter-mile of heaving green water. Undressing, he had crossed himself, and commending his soul to the keeping of his mother, he had dived naked into the waves.
He made his way slowly out from the cliff, floundering and choking as the waves broke over his head. No place in Scotland is that far from the sea, but Jamie had been raised inland, his experience of swimming limited to the placid depths of lochs and the pools of trout streams.
Blinded by salt and deafened by the roaring surf, he had fought the waves for what seemed hours, then thrust his head and shoulders free, gasping for breath, only to see the headland looming--not behind, as he had thought, but to his right.
“The tide was goin’ out, and I was goin’ with it,” he said wryly. “I thought, well, that’s it, then, I’m gone, for I knew I could never make my way back. I hadna eaten anything in two days, and hadn’t much strength left.”
He ceased swimming then, and simply spread himself on his back, giving himself to the embrace of the sea. Light-headed from hunger and effort, he had closed his eyes against the light and searched his mind for the words of the old Celtic prayer against drowning.
(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 33, "Buried Treasure". Copyright ©1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Without the slightest hesitation, Brianna raised the gun to her shoulder and seemed to fire in the same motion. The branch directly under the squirrel exploded in a shower of wood chips, and the squirrel, blown off its feet, plunged to the ground, bouncing off the springy evergreen branches as it went.
Roger ran across to the foot of the tree, but there was no need to hurry; the squirrel lay dead, limp as a furry rag.
“Good shot,” he said in congratulation, holding up the corpse as Brianna came to see. “But there’s not a mark on him—you must have scared him to death.”
Brianna gave him a level look from beneath her brows.
“If I’d meant to hit him, Roger, I’d have hit him,” she said, with a slight edge of reproof. “And if I had hit him, you’d be holding a handful of squirrel mush. You don’t aim right at something that size; you aim to hit just under them and knock them down."
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 20, "Shooting Lessons". Copyright ©2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Fence poles lay piled near the stone pillar. Roger dug about until he found a splintered piece short enough for convenience, and used it to lever a big chunk of granite up far enough to get both hands under it. Squatting, he got it onto his thighs, and very slowly stood up, his back straightening one vertebra at a time, fingers digging into the lichen-splotched surface with the effort of lifting. The rag tied round his head was drenched, and perspiration was running down his face. He shook his head to flick the stinging sweat out of his eyes.
Roger felt a sudden tug at his breeches, blinked sweat out of his eye, and planted his feet well apart to keep his balance without dropping the heavy rock.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 108, "Tulach Ard". Copyright ©2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
“I did hear my father tell of the archers,” Jamie said. “At Glenshiels. Many of them Grants, he said--and some Campbells.” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees, interested in the story, but wary.
"Aye, that was us.” Arch puffed industriously, smoke wreathing up round his head. "We’d crept down through the bracken in the night,” he explained to me, “and hid among the rocks above the river at Glenshiels, under the bracken and the rowans. Ye could have stood a foot away and not seen one of us, so thick as it was."
“But come the dawn,” he went on cheerfully, “and we stood on the signal and let fly. I will say ’twas a bonny sight, our arrows hailing down from the hills on the poor sods camped there by the river."
(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 23, "Anesthesia". Copyright ©2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Jamie kicked Gideon ungently in the ribs, urging him past the rest of the slow-moving travelers at a speed fast enough to keep the brute from biting, kicking, trampling stray bairns, or otherwise causing trouble. After a week’s journey, he was all too well acquainted with the stallion’s proclivities. He passed Brianna and Marsali, halfway up the column, at a slow trot; by the time he passed Claire and Roger, riding at the head, he was moving too fast to do more than flourish his hat at them in salute.
“A mhic an dhiobhail,” he said, clapping the hat back on and leaning low over the horse’s neck. “Ye’re a deal too lively for your own good, let alone mine. See how long ye last in the rough, eh?”
He pulled hard left, off the trail, and down the slope, trampling dry grass and brushing leafless dogwood out of the way with a gunshot snapping of twigs. What the seven-sided son of a bitch needed was flat country, where Jamie could gallop the bejesus out of him and bring him back blowing. Given that there wasn’t a flat spot in twenty miles, he’d have to do the next best thing.
He gathered up the reins, clicked his tongue, jabbed both heels into the horse’s ribs, and they charged up the shrubby hillside as though they had been fired from a cannon.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 18, "No Place Like Home". Copyright ©2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Highland Sword Dancing:
His eyes opened, and his head snapped up. The tipper struck the drum with a sudden thunk! and it began with a shout from the crowd. His feet struck down on the pounded earth, to the north and the south, to the east and the west, flashing swift between the swords.
His feet struck soundless, sure on the ground, and his shadow danced on the wall behind him, looming tall, long arms upraised. His face was still toward me, but he didn’t see me any longer, I was sure.
The muscles of his legs were strong as a leaping stag’s beneath the hem of his kilt, and he danced with all the skill of the warrior he had been and still was. But I thought he danced now only for the sake of memory, that those watching might not forget; danced, with the sweat flying from his brow as he worked, and a look of unutterable distance in his eyes.
(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 35, "Hogmanay". Copyright ©2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Let the Games begin!