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…
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.