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Olympics at a Distance

Aug
20
2008

I’ve really tried to get into the Olympics these past few weeks, but I just can’t seem to get into it. Please don’t deport me.
I think I saw a few swimming heats – or maybe I just saw the same race over and over – the one where Michael Phelps came in first?
Dirtman stays up late into the night, cheers for the U.S. winners, fusses at the judging on behalf of the losers and keeps me abreast of the sideline drama going on by way of turning on the Today Show every morning over coffee. I hear him over at his desk, quoting statistics and informing me of his own system of counting medals which involves assigning numerical values to the different types of awards. Then he adds up all the medals won by the former Soviet block countries and informs me what the standings would be if it really was the 1980s, as politicians keep reminiscing about.
“You should write about the Olympics this week,” Dirtman suggested. “It’s all anyone cares about anyway.” But I remain ambivalent.
Even the opening ceremonies controversy - where the beautiful voice of a perfectly acceptable-looking little girl was lip synced on camera by another acceptable-looking little girl – wasn’t enough to peak my ire. Let’s not pretend we don’t do precisely the same thing in the U.S., only using more passive/aggressive methods like beauty pageants, the media, Hollywood producers and four years of high school.
And if the attractive Olympic Medal presenters look disturbingly similar, let us not forget that a parade of NBA trophy wives could be mistaken for the march scene from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.
So, no, I can’t express outrage at these acts of discrimination, though I can’t help but be thankful that deeming someone ugly in the U.S. does not involve governmental regulation.
There have been several other minor controversies that I’ve decided to tiptoe around like the Olympic committee tiptoeing around the age issue in women’s gymnastics. Far be it from me to point out that eliminating baseball and softball from future Olympics because the United States is too good at it is rather like cancelling the Olympic marathon because the Kenyans are so good at it.
Perhaps if I were more of a competitor myself, I would find the Olympics compelling. But even outside the world of sports, I’ve never been all that anxious to pit myself against anyone else to see which one is the best. That way I figure I’ll never know for certain that I’m a great, big loser.
Competitiveness is a specific personality trait that I think people have in various amounts. I’m at the extreme end, meaning people who, when forced into facing some sort of rivalry, are just relieved to get it over with. In group situations, we’re happy just not to be the worst.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the Michael Phelps of this world, the multi-Gold Medalists who have no qualms about stating their goal to the world with the assurance they won’t end up embarrassed. (Though, between you and me, I sincerely suspect that Michael Phelps is an alien or at least one of those human/alien hybrids they were always trying to prove the existence of in The X-Files.)
I can’t help but remember that for every athlete competing in Beijing, there are hundreds back here in the U.S. who aspired to the Olympic team, but lost. The media doesn’t care about them, even though they are probably pretty good at their sport. But on the day of the tryouts, they weren’t that All-American Dream: The Best.
No one is interested unless you are The Best. That’s why we have eighty-thousand award shows. So that more and more people have a chance at being deemed The Best.
Frankly, I can’t relate to The Best. Me? Give me an error-filled minor league baseball game over Major League Baseball any day. Spare me the statistical minutiae of scoring Olympic gymnastics. I’d rather watch a five-year-old master her first cartwheel. I have a son who runs cross country for his high school team and is quite good at it. But I get more pleasure watching him chase the dogs around the yard, leaping over trash cans, jumping on the picnic table and keeping up with the fastest of these born sheep herders. Yeah, I suppose I’m a bit of an under-achiever elitist.
I kind of love the humanity, the tenacity and the commonality of The Loser, who keeps plugging away at life with no medals or applause, but still nails that dismount with a smile and a good-natured chuckle.

Share  Posted by Jeanne Jackson at 1:55 PM | Permalink

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