Mary Lou Retton scores a perfect 10. Greg Louganis hits his head on the diving board. Nancy Kerrigan participates despite being clubbed in the leg. Mohammed Ali lights the Olympic torch. Kerri Strug overcomes an injury to win the gold. These are some of the memories I have of the Olympics of the 80s and 90s.
For the past ten years, however, I haven’t really watched the international sporting event. That has changed this summer, partly because there’s nothing else to watch, but mostly because they are entertaining. Why the ten year hiatus? I forgot that there are sports in the world other than basketball, football, baseball, and tennis that are worth watching. Maybe it was the bloated presentation of gymnastics and figure skating every single weekend that made me grow weary of them. Perhaps I grew cynical about the “very special back story” that each Olympian seemed to have. During the Winter Olympics, I was annoyed that the games interrupted my favorite shows.
For all those reasons that I lost interest in the games, this summer I have recaptured my joy in watching them, and have fully embraced the Olympic spirit. The Opening Ceremonies were truly a sight to behold. I was amazed and awed by the sheer size and attention to detail that the Chinese put into it. From the 800 sequenced drummers counting down the opening minute, to the grace and beauty of the dancers who drew giant Chinese characters while moving their arms rhythmically, to the grand finale of the former Olympian being lifted up and then running through the air around the stadium to finally light the cauldron, I was overwhelmed both visually and emotionally.
Over the past seven days, I have watched everything from kayaking to tennis to beach volleyball, and while some sports are more entertaining than others, I am glad that these athletes have a chance to be seen by the world. Just today I watched a bit of a badminton doubles’ match. The most I know of this sport is what I learned in my high school P.E. class. (Strange that they make us play sports that most of us will never try again.) While it isn’t the most interesting thing to an American audience, I was impressed by the speed and coordination of the players.
Now that the gymnastics is wrapping up, track & field is getting into full swing, while swimming seems to be continuing its never ending series of heats, semi-finals, and medal rounds. Can’t wait for more diving!
Rather than go into detail about everything I’ve seen, here are some random observations:
- Swimmers have unusually shaped upper torsos, an effect of the hours they spend in the water and training, I suppose. Some of them almost look like fish.
- A world record has been broken in just about every swimming event. It’s not even exciting anymore. Either the world’s swimmers are becoming super human, or these records are only being broken by milliseconds.
- The gymnastics commentators are really annoying to listen to, but they are also fun to mimic. (“That’s gonna cost her.” “Devastating. His Olympic dreams just got smashed.”) So much melodrama!
- There’s no way all those Chinese gymnasts are 16. Some of them don’t look any older than 10! So it seems wrong that they won all those gold medals if they broke the rules. Plus it’s just wrong that they take those girls away from their families at age 3. Weird. I don’t think anything is important enough to be separated from your family long term from such a young age.
- Discus throwers don’t have to be in great shape. They just have to be able to throw stuff. (Kudos to them for that, though. Not many people could throw that heavy little disc near to where they do.)
I look forward to watching more obscure sports, and some popular ones, over the next several days.