Friday, August 15, 2008

The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat

Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of sport...the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat...the human drama of athletic competition...

Anyone who knows me knows - I have no use for most sporting events. My one hat-tip to sporting events was to buy a Kansas City Chiefs "starter" jacket (because KC had just lost in the playoffs, and everything was on sale!), and I have taken merciless ribbing about it for years. Even in Toledo, Ohio, if I wore it out, some guy would give me a grin, and yell, "Hey, buddy, how 'bout dem Chiefs?"

(After years of staring vacantly at these folks, I finally figured out that the safe answer was, "Y'know, you just never know about that team...", and then the person would fill in their own half of the conversation, never knowing that I neither knew or cared - it was just a warm and inexpensive coat.)

But there is something different about the Olympics. In Summer, swimming, diving, gymnastics., biking. In Winter, skiing, ski jumping, bobsled, luge, figure skating, ice dancing. And for years, the voice of Jim McKay over all...

So many people become nationalist morons at times like this. Basketball especially, but not limited to that by any means. The only appreciation they have is for the score, and the chance to mindlessly shriek, "USA! USA! USA!" until they are hoarse.

I have no use for that, or them.

I can marvel at the stunning form of the Chinese gymnasts; share in the glee of the USA men's team as they struggled to achieve their bronze medal; see beyond the medal-tally to the humanity (and humility) of an American swimmer who almost seems superhuman, and the incredible work he must perform to make it seem so easy. I can cheer for the man from Poland who took the gold in shot-put; clap for the woman from Zimbabwe who took gold in women's butterfly swimming. It is, as Jim McKay would say every Saturday afternoon for years, "...the human drama of athletic competition."

Since Chris works until 11 each night, our Olympic viewing has been pretty limited, but has seen some of the classic moments from Beijing. The infectious grin of Jonathan Horton (can you believe that guy is only 5' 1" tall? Heck, his SMILE was that wide...), the almost helicopter-like performance of Alexander Artimev on the pommel horse, and the absolutely amazing come-from-behind performance of Jason Lezak in the men's 4-x-100-meter relay team.

(Some of you may say, "OK, this is STEVE here, talking sports stuff? Who ARE you, you impostor, and what have you done with Steve F? Tell us!" Nope, this is the real deal, folks...)

Part of it is sheer envy. I have never been athletic; I have always envied those who were. But most of it is sheer admiration for the ultimate athletic prowess, and even more for those who gave their best despite never making it (like the legendary Jamaican bobsled team!). But beyond that, for those who performed with class and grace. The men and women who were memory makers.

Like in Sarajevo, 1984. Winter Olympics. Ice dancing.

I don't know if I had ever even SEEN ice-dancing before 1984. I know that I had never followed it, and I knew nothing about who was good and who was not. Until, that is, I saw a couple from Britain who simply set the ice on fire.

Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnole. A little less than four minutes of visually captivating, stylistically arresting performance that won them the gold medal. I don't know what it was that embedded their performance forever in my mind - but that 4 minutes came to epitomize the best of the Olympics. Performance, beauty, strength, skill, flair - pushing the boundaries of what was possible in search of new levels of excellence. And to this day, I cannot hear Capriccio Espagnole without thinking of Torvill and Dean.

There is much that is not good about the Olympics, and Olympic competition in general. It saddens me every time someone must cheat (whether it be drugs or performance enhancing chemicals, using under-age athletes, or clearly predatory judging) to achieve some nationalistic goal. It is tragic how the spectacle of Olympic competition draws attention away from Darfur, Georgia, even the rest of China - not to mention the tragedies going on right down the street from each of us.

But for me, these Olympic dramas are a gentle drug that (along with my loving partner) help take the edge off days of frustration and uncertainty. These are moments of beauty in otherwise ugly times - and I give thanks for that. So here's to those talented men and women - with a tribute from Olympic past...


Hope said...

I too sit in admiration of athletes. The grace and fluid movements can be beautiful to watch.
I am a sports fan when it comes to some sports. I've hogged the remote far more than my share lately.

Anonymous said...

Amen! I've been enjoying watching the Olympics this year. And, I too marvel and "ROOT" for athletes from all the different countries.

I think the Olympics has the ability to break-down those walls of nationalism, if one can just break-down the "rule-of-National-Patriotism" many have bought into of only cheering for those in our country. Let's face it, these men and women from all over the World, are beautifully gifted, and the sheer fact of the time, energy and sacrifice they've put in to their sport...personally, they deserve my claps and cheers.

~Amy :)

Black Pete said...

While I don't have much of any interest in the Olympics, I, too, respect the skill and hard work of the athletes involved.

bruced said...

Sometimes I dream that I can run. Sometimes I even dream that I can fly.

How ya been, Steve?