13 August 2008

Olympic-sized disgust

After watching the Mets game last night and being pleasantly surprised when the bullpen did NOT blow a lead, Kathryn and I switched over to catch the Olympics. The women were just heading into the pool and Phelps' chance at the most gold medals ever was coming up. What splendid timing! We watched as the announcers tried to will the American out of fourth place - "she's pressing now and trimming down the lead" - no wait, she's a full body length behind. Oh well.

Phelps headed to the line and the commentary moved to gloating. "Watch at the third turn, he'll make the rest of the field look like boys." And he did. He set another world record (yawn - see slate.com's article on the boring world of swimming world records). More importantly, he had himself the most gold. Ever.

And what was his reaction? As his family wept in the stands, he tossed his hat and goggles aside, looking distracted and even a little disappointed - a far cry from his vein-popping celebration after the men's relay. Why wasn't he more excited? The announcer explained that Phelps was hoping to finish under 1:52 and had just missed it. Even though he set a world record.

What kind of athletic culture have we bred, that setting a world record and having the most gold medals ever isn't enough? Maybe I just don't understand because my sports career highlights are beating a girl in a badminton tournament (she was really good), my junior varsity baseball career (O for O with two walks, three stolen bases and two runs) and an undefeated season in college intramural softball (ok that was actually pretty awesome).

I just can't imagine not being able to celebrate such an incredible achievement because you didn't break the world record BY ENOUGH. Am I in the wrong for not being competitive enough? Am I the only one sickened as 16 year olds destroy their bodies - the announcer can't understand why "her knee injuries just won't go away."

Don't get me wrong, I love the Olympics.

Four years ago I was in Kenya and watched lots of handball and endless qualifying heats for track and field events. When a Kenyan finished a qualifier in first place, it was front page news. My time in Nairobi was less than pleasant - robbed blind by both thieves and the police, homeless and stuck in a seedy motel where I fell asleep to screams and gunshots and the pounding bass of the all night reggae club downstairs.

But you know what? I would love to be there again, if only to celebrate the glory of these incredible athletes, rather than see standards set so high that it becomes, as I believe they say on The Simpsons, "glorious gold, so-so silver and shameful bronze."

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