I watch the Olympics with the same sense of wonder every year. Well, every four years. How do they do that? How many more records can be broken? How much younger can the gymnasts get? What kind of logistics does it take to put on something like this? How much does the whole thing really cost? How do they manage to keep me glued to the TV when I hate sports the other three years and eleven months?
I don’t stand a chance to medal unless there’s a typing competition, but here are a few thoughts, anyway:
For you science fiction fans, the first Terminator sent back in time to kill John Conner malfunctioned, and took up swimming instead.
How else do you explain Michael Phelps, who’s won more medals than McDonalds has restaurants? He’s so fast dolphins have gone into retirement. The Navy wouldn’t take him because there’s no point slowing him down with a ship. He can hold his breath longer than an emergency trip to a gas station bathroom.
Rumor has it he has little propellers installed behind his ears.
On another wondrous note, I’ve just discovered there are Olympic cheerleaders. Why aren’t we seeing more of this? Beats badminton.
I’m kidding about the badminton, by the way. I was all prepared to make fun of that sport until I saw it played at the Olympic level, and realized how different it was from back when I used to hide behind the bleachers during gym class. Um, I mean when I used to play it in gym class.
Those little badminton ball-type thingies were flying around like the Millennium Falcon on overdrive. You could not only put somebody’s eye out, you could serve it into the beach volleyball game across the street.
Not that the volleyballers were playing slow pitch, if you’ll pardon me mixing sports metaphors. But people are more likely to watch volleyball than badminton, and here’s why: It took me a few minutes of watching before I realized the badminton teams were mixed.
They were wearing these loose t-shirts, and kind of looked like they were dressed as busboys at low end restaurants. The volleyball players, on the other hand, were wearing – well, almost nothing.
I’m not saying skin and sex should be part of any sports … I’m just saying it doesn’t hurt the ratings. Personally I can’t imagine how the beach volleyballers could think about anything other than wardrobe malfunctions.
This kind of thing isn’t nearly as much of a problem during the winter Games.
For Americans in my neck of the woods, the local connection was a lady named Amy Yoder-Begley, a distance runner who hails from Kendallville. She ran the 10 K, and believe me when I say that doesn’t mean 10 thousand dollars – the number of Olympians who make more money than they invest in their sport is miniscule. They’re kind of like fiction writers.
During the race I noticed she seemed to be stuck in a pack, and she mentioned that in her blog along with the simple comment that “the race did not go well”. Naturally she was disappointed, and we were all disappointed for her.
Still, I’m continually surprised at the attitude that someone is somehow a loser because they didn’t get one of the first three places in the friggin’ Olympics. When you make it onto the Olympic team out of, say, three hundred million other people, you’re doing okay. Amy, if you’re reading this – because I have so many celebrity fans – you did just fine.
I felt badly for Liu Xiang, a defending Olympic champion who had to pull out of the 110 meter hurdles when his hamstring gave out. He trained and working hard for four years for another shot, only to have to give up after a false start. Xiang is one of China’s biggest sports stars, and the disappointment sent the whole country into a state of shock. Imagine a star quarterback getting sidelined by injury after the first play of the Superbowl, only worse.
Still, in my mind the best all-around athletes in the Olympics remain the gymnasts. Many Olympic events require one skill: Run, swim, dive, walk fast, or so on. I watched a girl – she must have been, oh, six – take off from a running start, flip twice in the air while twisting around – backward -- and land on her feet.
Oh, sure, I did that once, but it took a jolt of electricity to get me started, and according to the medics I didn’t land on my feet at all.
As an aspiring novelist, I have a sense of what those young gymnasts go through. No, seriously:
They start dreaming at an early age. Some give up because of all the work involved, but many more work, train, learn all they can about their craft, try to find professionals to help them, and support each other because only another gymnast can understand. They suffer through all sorts of karmic accidents that can bring their careers to an end. Then, even after going through all that, their chances of actually finding success are incredibly small – and if they do, most never make enough money to make a living doing what they love.
See? Just like being a novelist. Except with lots more exercise.
What about the question of China as a host nation, with their horrible record of human rights violations?
China is a huge economic and military power, and can’t be just ignored; like it or not, they must be dealt with, one way or another. The Olympics are about nations competing, to a degree – that’s why so many people stress over the medal count, not to mention the national anthems and flags flying everywhere.
But in a greater sense they’re about individual effort, the spirit of athleticism, not to mention the opportunities of youth. Who knows? Maybe exposing the Chinese people to so many people of other countries and cultures is just what they need, to start pushing themselves toward a broader understanding and eventual democracy.
Meanwhile, I’m off to start my novel about young people in competition; I’m feeling inspired.