From diving pools to Ryan Lochte’s hair, everything is greener in Rio.
—Me on Facebook before LochteGate became a thing
Every four years, something quite remarkable happens…
I become an “expert” across gymnastics, diving, swimming, volleyball, tennis, and if time permits, perhaps soccer too. My expertise is unfortunately accompanied by my vast under appreciation of such sports as table tennis and anything involving shooting, but hey, we all have our shortcomings. My attention to the Summer Olympic Games seems unexpected, considering I’m a NARP (Non-Athletic Regular Person) who doesn’t usually watch sports (except for the occasional World Cup).
And yet, I’ve always loved the Olympics. I remember traces of Sydney, learning about Phelps in Athens, and being fascinated by the opening ceremonies in Beijing. Heck, I was probably watching the Atlanta Games when I was 2 for all I know.
Rio was no different. I watched Bolt and Phelps do their thing. I watched Biles fly twice her height and Ledecky swim half a pool ahead of her competitors. I wanted to cry alongside Puig, help D’Agostino run those last laps, and cheer on Neymar as he made that last penalty kick. Also, the cycling road race made me want to visit Rio like tomorrow. Disappointment was all around too, and I’m not just talking about Walsh Jennings or Del Potro not getting gold. There was LochteMess, the usual money and political controversy surrounding the Games, and each and every article detailing the hidden gems floating in Rio’s waters. Not to mention, the criticism concerning NBC’s commentators.
Do you mind over emphasizing the marital status, age, and # of children of all the male athletes? It’s great that you already do so for the women, but I’m looking to put a ring on it.
K, thanks. Bye.
—Me, again, on Facebook
Even so, come Tokyo 2020, I know I’ll be mesmerized once again by the Games. I’ll still admire the athletic spectacle from the sidelines. Like so many others, I’m drawn to the Games because of the many stories surrounding the Olympics. The stories of people who have spent years perfecting one skill. Behind each minute of televised fame, there are 1460 days of hard work, sacrifice, and injuries we don’t see. Stories of tremendous ambition and hope. Stories of people striving to be the best they can be.
The sentiment is captured in Alexi Pappas’ interview with ESPN:
“The Olympics to me are permission to continue wanting things that I may or not get,” distance runner Alexi Pappas said. “Because I see so many people around me trying so hard as well. It’s motivating to be around that. The Olympics are permission to keep believing in yourself because hundreds of other people believe in themselves, and they want something. And it’s a scary thing to want something but it’s less scary to be in a whole village of people who want something they may or may not get.”
Pappas’ choice of words is interesting. The Olympics give permission to believe in oneself, and this permission is established and reaffirmed through the other athletes competing. The quote demonstrates the power of community. An individual’s aspirations are not separate from community. Our hopes and dreams can be fueled by the people around us.
Ultimately, I’m drawn to the Games because I would love to see that level of dedication to something I love in my own life. To hold something so dear, I’m willing to go all out, whether I win or lose. Although the focus of the ESPN article was “dedicating yourself to doing your best in what you love,” Pappas shows that environment is a key aspect to success. Commentators love to put the focus on individual Olympians, but Pappas puts the focus back on community, rivals included. The impossible seems less daunting when others run alongside us (or in the case of Ledecky, swim 50m behind us). Two questions loom in my mind: 1) What am I running after? 2) Who’s running with me? Turns out, the second question can make a big difference.
A secondary takeaway is that I should workout more and file a petition to become a SARP (Somewhat-Athletic Regular Person).