The Olympics are back. Two weeks of uninterrupted athletic competition are especially welcomed during the doldrums of February. I love everything about the Olympics. Even my wife follows them. She never cares about a sporting event like she does the Olympics. At times, she will even refuse to watch because she can’t stand the anxiety of a close race or a medal-clinching routine. Michael Phelps’ push for eight gold medals in the 2008 Summer Olympics nearly drove her crazy. She hated how much she cared, but couldn’t help but watch. The same process has already begun for the 2010 Winter Olympics. On Saturday night she tried to escape the living room prior to the men’s speed skating 1500 meter final because she was too anxious. When my wife is captivated by a sporting event, you know the Olympics have arrived.
There’s no point in previewing or predicting what the Vancouver games will bring. I don’t know enough to offer a preview, and unpredictability is what makes the Olympics great. Therefore, I’ll simply encourage you to enjoy and appreciate these simple things. After all, the Olympics don’t come around every year.
- Purity. Most Olympic athletes aren’t spoiled prima donnas. They aren’t paid millions of dollars to compete. Every four years these athletes gather to prove to themselves, their family, their country, and the world that they are the best. They bring a passion that is lost in professional sports. Peyton Manning didn’t walk off the field crying after his decisive pick-six. Dwight Howard wasn’t inconsolable after falling to the Lakers. Olympic athletes are devastated when they fail. Their entire lives have been devoted to winning Olympic gold, and for many, they have only one shot. There’s no tomorrow, next season, or next year for these athletes. There’s today, and today only. Other than high school sports, there’s no purer athletic competition.
- Unity. We find a lot to argue about. Is global warming a real issue? Should a universal healthcare system be implemented? Will Jack, Kate, and Sawyer die on the island? The Olympics provide common ground. You won’t find yourself at a local bar talking to the fellow next to you about how he’s a Swiss fan because he likes their young nucleus. No way. We root for the Americans because they’re Americans, and because they aren’t multi-millionaires pretending to care for three hours. Olympic athletes are neighbors, co-workers, moms, dads, spouses, and classmates. We cheer because we can relate to them on an entirely different level than we can a superstar athlete. They’re one of us, and we’re one of them. For two weeks, entire countries worldwide can unanimously support the same cause. That is special.
- Family. My favorite aspect of the Olympics is the families. The athletes are great. With all the time they’ve devoted to their trade they certainly deserve their success. However, Olympic telecasts have always allowed viewers to share the joy (and at times agony) experienced by the athletes’ family. On Saturday night I watched a skier’s mom excitedly punch the gentlemen in front of her over and over again as her daughter moved into first place. She may or may not have known him, but I know my mom would do the same thing. Shots of families/friends in the crowd are wonderful moments. Families are a huge part of an athlete’s success. So many times the families sacrifice as much as the athlete in order to reach this stage. I’m passionate about the Olympics because I identify with the families. I want them to celebrate.
- Class. When did you last see an Olympian pound his or her chest after an amazing performance? It rarely happens. Instead, they flock to their families or teammates or vice versa. The euphoria is communal; between athlete and family/teammate/crowd/country. To me, winning at the Olympics is the pinnacle of sports accomplishments. There’s a certain honor and humility that comes when you hear your country’s national anthem play because YOU out-performed the competition. That’s humbling, overwhelming, and rewarding all at the same time.
- Memories. I love sports. I grew up watching sports of all kinds and still do. I never miss the Olympics, ever. I treasure Olympic memories. I vividly remember when Kerri Strug nailed her landing on a bum leg – my mom screamed and danced like it was her own daughter. I can still picture Dan Jensen finally winning gold in 1994. More than memories themselves, I treasure the people I’ve shared them with. I watched every moment of the 2006 Winter Olympics at my girlfriend’s house because I didn’t have a TV. While she probably can’t remember a single thing, I recall celebrating Shaun White and Apolo Ohno. In 2008, while at a shore house with almost 20 people, my brother and I volunteered to call the couch home for the week. In the early morning hours we watched as Jason Lezak, down almost an entire body length after the final turn, chased down France’s Alain Bernard to win the 400 freestyle relay, keeping Michael Phelps’ push for eight gold medals alive. Never, in the history of mankind, have more jump kicks, muted screams, and man hugs occurred in one room. Although I can’t confirm this, the eye sprinklers may have even popped on too. If you’ve forgotten how fantastic that moment was, allow me to retrace the event with actual quotes from Dan Hicks, who called the race, and his color commentator, Rowdy Gaines.
Prior to the race…
Gaines: “How many times have I broken this down, Dan, over the last two weeks? Every time I do it, it comes out France … they each (U.S. relay members) have to have the perfect race to be able to beat the French.”
Heading into the final leg of the relay…
Hicks: “Jason Lezak is gonna have to make up some ground on Alain Bernard.”
Gaines: “I just don’t think they can do it, Dan.”
Over halfway through final leg…
Hicks: “the United State,s trying to hang on to second, they should get the silver medal … Australia is in bronze territory right nowww, BUT LEZAK IS CLOSING A LITTLE BIT ON BERNARD! CAN THE VETERAN CHASE HIM DOWN AND PULL OF A SHOCKER HERE?”
Three seconds later…
Hicks: “BERNARD IS LOSING SOME GROUND! (screaming now in a Gus Johnson pitch…) HERE COMES LEZAK, UNBELIEVABLE AT THE END! HE’S DONE IT! THE U.S. HAS DONE IT!”
Gaines (Yelling in the background): “HE DID IT! THEY DID IT! THEY DID IT!”
This is why I watch. This is why I care.