August 19, 2008

Wait, don't go!

As I said last night to Trevor, I am getting “Sunday night depression” about the Olympics. You know, that feeling of dread when you realize the weekend is dangerously close to being over and the next one seems So Far Away?

It’s hard to put into words why I love the Olympics so much. It’s a time when my Dad and I can agree to be Proud to be an American. The first time I caught myself yelling “Go USA” to the TV, I realized that this is a different 17 day period in my life. Maybe it’s that I see such potential there - Individual accomplishments + team morale + pride in your country… It’s a real opportunity for the world to come together, and it’s what sports and diplomatic relations should be all about.

I love the obscure sports that someone – many someones actually – have spent their entire lives perfecting. And I love that they are finally getting recognition for that commitment on a global stage.

I love the country processional – and I love how they did it this year in Beijing, where it wasn’t alphabetical. Is there anything more awesome than those countries with 1-3 representatives, decked out in a “native” costume, representing an entire, giant population and looking so so proud to be doing so?

I love the come-from-nowhere victories. Or the almost victories – those work too. It’s more than just an underdog story (And seriously – when exactly did Shawn Johnson exactly become an underdog? She’s not, people! Look at the Romanian girl who won the floor exercise – THAT’S a story. Shawn Johnson is an amazing (and adorable) gymnast who has all the fame in the world for her sport. I refuse to be manipulated into feeling sorry for her.) Like the US Men’s gymnastics team – competing without the Hamm brothers, with 2 alternates on their team – really giving China a run for their money. These are guys who (clearly) are not used to being the center of attention – and they really thrived on it. They had something to prove, and they did it – that’s awesome. And dude, was there anything more tear-inducing than seeing the third alternate – the only one who wasn’t called up – in the stands, equal parts bawling his eyes out and cheering his team on? Another great come-from-nowhere victory – Stephanie something something who won the discus competition, with a first round throw that was yards past anything she’s ever thrown before (as a side note, it was also about 160 feet further than any discus I ever threw went). She wasn’t even supposed to be a contender, and everyone had 5 chances to catch her – and they couldn’t. She also broke the US track & field mini-curse, becoming the first to gold medal in the Indoor Stadium.

And you know what – I love when people adopt a country to represent in the Olympics. Maybe not necessarily when Chris Kaman does it b/c he knows he would never make it on the US Basketball team, but when someone like Bernard Legat, who was a Lost Boy of Sudan feels so strongly about his new homeland that he wants to represent them. Or, the 31 year old woman from Russia, who represented the Soviet Union in 1992, but moved to Germany when her son was diagnosed with leukemia and her friend, the coach of the German gymnastics team, offered to sponsor them and get him treatment (she won the silver medal on individual vault by the way – take that youth-dominated sport!). These people are acting out their gratitude and respect in a truly epic way, and it’s pretty awe-inspiring.

I love the Olympics because it humbles some of the biggest egos around. And yes, I’m talking about Kobe and Lebron. And I’ll throw the Williams sisters in there too. Watching Kobe take photos with other athletes during the Opening Ceremony, asking them how to say things in their own languages, going to the women’s basketball games, cheering on Michael Phelps, and Misty May and Kerry Walsh, and – in general – talking respectfully about representing his country… I’ll be honest, it makes me pretty proud. The Olympics can bring that out of Kobe – and I hope he remembers that. (Of course – the other side of that coin is that the Olympics also create some pretty giant egos – being that it’s only once every eight years that most of these sports are in the spotlight. Utain Bolt, anyone? But I don’t begrudge him – or any other athlete who goes a little overboard in the celebration department. You have to remember that these are guys who don’t get to do an endzone dance every week – this is very nearly it for them. They don’t have the practice, or the media relations people telling them how to behave – what they have is sheer joy, and let that come out as it may.

I love the heartbreak, I love the montages, I even love the ridiculously late nights. I love everything except Bob Costas.

Here is my Bob Costas rant, who, as my family can attest, has driven me absolutely bonkers since 1996. Must he be so patronizing and so…American? During the Opening Ceremonies, nearly every word that came out of his and Matt Lauer’s mouths was a borderline ignorant commentary on how hilarious all these other countries are. And there’s the poor NBC correspondent for China who really knows his shit and was trying to shed some meaningful light on the symbolism of everything, while Costas and Lauer do the equivalent of snickering behind their hands at the back of the classroom. And it’s the same every night. Get off your high horse talking about Utain Bolt and patronizingly interviewing Bela Karosi, just hoping he says something truly absurd. It’s always been like this – and I, for one, am sick of it. I think I will make a bumper sticker about a regime change in 2012.

Thus concludes Ashley’s Life: Olympics Edition. Stay tuned for Things to Fix About the Olympics and (ripped off from EW) Studliest Olympians.