i’m bad at watching the olympics

On one of the overhead TVs at Batch they’re playing the 1992 Olympic games and it’s nice, first of all, just to sit here kinda tipsy and appreciate the grace with which a buncha world-class athletes can dance around. I hadn’t thought about it in the past but, consider this, maybe were’ on the same page: I only ever see Olympic athletes perform when they’re in competition. Thus, I lose sight of the fact that each one of these young people on screen is one of a select few masters of their craft in the whole world. And I think that my appreciation of the games is kinda hampered by losing sight of that. When watching the Olympics I have a bad habit of trying to identify the best, the fastest, the strongest—when really I should be marveling at the ensemble.

            One of the things that inclines me toward watching it the wrong way is the fact that, with all of these world-class athletes running alongside each other, their brilliance is relativized. They’re keeping, for the most part, abreast of one another. Every now and then you see somebody who’s quite a ways in the back and you think, “Pah! Loser!”

            They start looking average, in other words. Which is unfortunate.  

            But, there’s another way in which they’re made to look average—except it’s beautifully average. Downright enchanting. And that’s when the winners are announced. Because for all of their mastery and brilliance on the field, the track, the whatever—all of these competitors are acutely aware of the fact that they’re going up against people who are just as good and probably better than themselves. And the expressions on their faces when they win, the frequency with which they collapse at the announcement, the tears…

Watch this Derek Redmond clip if you feel like crying (AP Photo/Denis Paquin)

            It’s a beautiful reminder of the fact that these people came from all over the fucking world to do this and that they’ve spent their entire lives preparing. We see some tears at the Superbowl, sure, and slightly less often with NBA Championships—but those league players are professional athletes who have their image in mind when they do things, their brand. They’re “camera savvy,” as it were. They’ve been coached on the fact that they’re being surveiled and scrutinized by an audience of millions who are eager to pounds on them for the slightest faux pas.

            This is clearly not the case with Olympians. These are the people who’ve been training on desolate tracks of land, dilapidated gymnasiums, deserts, snow-packed terrains. They don’t pay no mind to the picturetaker. Those tears and howls and leaps of joy are the closest thing we get to a depiction of the work that preceded their appearance here. Because they’re realizing the validation of that work. And I think that the preparation, the lifestyle, the sacrifice is really what distinguishes all these people as athletes, not so much the actual records or the performance.

            It’s what makes them stand out, even from one another.

One comment

  • Oh, MAN, I super-dig the Olympics and I’m not even a sports person – and it is entirely because of the underdogs who come out of nowhere and actually achieve something and then flip right the hell out. Or even the people who don’t win but they’re trying their damndest and still don’t win but they don’t even care because “HOLY SHIT I’m at the OLYMPICS.”

    Or they lose in a particularly bad-ass way. Track down the story of Gabriela Andersen-Schiess, from the 1984 Olympics – it was the first year they had a Women’s Marathon ever. The winner was an American, Joan Benoit (by a landslide). But of course the other racers kept going. And it was an unusually hot day, and some of the last water stations ran out (and they were only allowed to have five during the race). So Andersen-Schiess, who was towards the end, got dehydrated, REALLY bad. But kept going – and so when she got to the stadium to do her final lap, she was literally staggering – her right leg was practically paralyzed, her body was bent at this weird angle, but she was still moving. A team of doctors raced over because she was obviously in bad shape, but she started DODGING them, because the rules were that if anyone touched her before she made it over the finish line, she would be disqualified. So the doctors just sort of tagged along as she finished her final lap – which took five minutes – and then as soon as she crossed the finish line she collapsed and the doctors pounced on her and whisked her into an ambulance. Two hours later she’d recovered.

    She came in 37th place in that race, but no one is EVER going to forget that.


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