Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why We Watch

I gotta say, I'm a sucker for the Olympics (less than 24 hours to go! Notice the London phone boxes in honor of the Games). The pageantry, the memorable moments, the sportsmanship. It's not just about seeing Michael Phelps kick butt in 2008 (though, with a sick toddler that summer, I was up late at night and was able to watch every single race live). It's not just about seeing the Stars and Stripes raised and the Star Spangled Banner played. It's about more than that. It's about teaching my son what true sportsmanship is.

Every single Olympic athlete knows how hard their opponents worked and and how much he or she sacrificed to be there. The early-morning practices, the hours in the weight rooms, the doing every flip, every jump, every shot, every hurdle, every stroke again and again and again until it seemed as if their body was doing it on its own. Unlike in professional sports, you rarely hear or see trash talking, name calling, or bullying at the Olympics. Not even directed at that one swimmer who is always three lengths of the pool down when everyone else is finished. Those are attributes that I want my son to emulate.

In May, the reigning gold medal winner for time trial bicycling, Kristin Armstrong--whose home happens to be less than 40 miles from mine--was in a crash at the Exergy Tour that resulted in a broken collar bone. After such a painful break, no one would have blamed her for sitting at home with an ice pack on her shoulder and watching the Games from her couch. But she worked through the pain and ended a race in Oregon early so she could focus on preparing for the Olympics in London. And who (at least, those of us who can remember the 1996 Atlanta Olympics) can forget Kerri Strug? Her second vault--which ended up winning the USA the gold medal--was done on an ankle she had broken during her first vault. Run, run, run, run, flip, boing, vault, flip, flip, perfect landing. All during what had to be excruciating pain. The video (and having to explain it to my son) still makes me cry. Not because, through her, all of us won a gold medal, but because it's what I want for my boy. To know that no matter what happens, pain--be it physical, emotional, or mental--can only take one out of contention if one allows it to.

Olympic athletes rarely give up--another attribute worth emulating. No matter if they see every single one of their competitors 50 meters in front of them in the 100-meter race, they still keep running. Already taken down two hurdles? Still never gives up. Race is over? Still gonna finish it. Even when an athlete is so far behind in the decathlon that there's no way he or she will medal, they still do not drop out in frustration and leave the track and field pitch and return to the Olympic Village.

Respect. Determination. Perseverance. Those personality traits are woven throughout the stories of the Olympic Games. And that is why I love them. The sports are fun to watch, it's wonderful to see people who have worked so hard do well, and it's fun to root for the country of your choice. (And, watching the Olympics with a globe handy is also a wonderful way to teach world geography.) But the Olympics are not simply a set of contests of strength and endurance. It is so much more than that. Yes, without a doubt, NBC will be on our TV pretty much from sunrise to long after dark for the next 16 days.

Go Team USA. Make me proud of you once again.

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