the Big Idea Festival
Book Note: Immobility by Brian Evenson

My Favorite Olympic Moments

I love summers that include the Olympics. Even though it wrecks havoc with my sleep schedule (I stayed up until midnight or one in the morning for almost all two weeks), the Olympics makes me happy. The camaradarie! The athletic prowess! The stories & snippets & updates!

I love it.

Here are my favorite moments from the London Olympics:

Dana Vollmer winning the gold in the 100m butterfly. This was the woman whose cap came off but she still won. What I loved, though, was just how sincerely happy she looked to win, rather than one of those "of course I won" sort of faces. She was my favorite swimmer. 

The women’s synchronized diving pair winning a silver medal. Dare I confess that I had never watched synchronized diving before? I know! Watching them spin and flip together...beautifully amazing. Having done a few spins and flips back in the day, I cannot figure out how they get it together. I would’ve loved this event even if no American team had medaled, so their silver made it one of my favorite events.

Nathan Adrian winning gold by 1/100th of a second in the 100 freestyle. You know how you respond to a certain sort of face in different ways? This swimmer’s face—all beamy-smiled and open—made me love him before he even got in the water. When I watched this race I was literally jumping up and down in front of my TV yelling at him (in an encouraging tone!) to swim faster.

Oscar Pistorius’s two 400 meter runs. This is the runner from South Africa who runs on two prosthetic legs. I watched both of them with tears streaming down my face and even writing about it gives me a lump in my throat. I think I have this response because I think about Kendell a lot when I'm running. Because of his hip replacement, he can't go running with me. (And let's face it: even if he could run we would never be able to run together because he'd be much faster.) I know it bothers him and he misses being able to run and I wish I could fix it for him. I can't imagine not being able to run so quite often when I'm out running and I'm tired, the thought that Kendell would love to be able to run is one that keeps me going. It made me cry because even though it doesn't fix anything for Kendell, Pistorius's run showed that medical advancements do help some people. (I teared up again when his team ran the relay.) And then when Kirani James swapped numbers with him! (Signifying that the faster runner held the utmost respect for the slower.) This was one of my favorite moments because it showed that conceit and bravado are not the only responses a winning athlete need show.

The beam and floor exercise event finals. Almost every single gymnastics event was spoiled for me by the Internet. I tried HARD to just stay offline but sometimes at work I couldn't avoid opening up a browser and then whammo! getting hit by yet another spoiler. I knew Gabby Douglas messed up on her bars and that McKayla Maroni sat down her vault before I watched the events. (I still watched them.) But the beam and floor event finals were, somehow, saved from the effects of the Internet. I watched them right in a row (they happened on the same night), skipping whatever events happened in between (hooray for DVRs!). When Aly Raisman finished her beam routine, and the scores were going to be close, I said "she's not going to get it" and I was almost right—this was the event when the American coaches contested the score, and the US gymnast barely beat, by virtue of a tie-breaking rule, the Romanian Catalina Ponor for bronze because of it. I was happy for Aly (who, after all, didn't get a bronze in the all-around because of another tie-breaking rule) but so devastated for the Romanian. So when I watched the floor exercise, I almost didn't care that Raisman also got a gold. I mean, I was happy for her. She was my favorite gymnast anyway. Go USA! But I wanted Ponor to win a medal, too. Partly because of that lost beam bronze. But also, I confess, because she's 24 years old and seriously: that is old in gymnastics. That's like 87 in gymnastics years. Plus her leotard was the prettiest.

Any track event run by Allyson Felix. Not only was she fun to watch, she seems so gracious. The two runners who gloated about beating Lolo Jones in the 100m didn't make me like them—at all. But Felix seemed so kind about winning. So un-braggy, even though she put in the work to win. That, to me, is what makes a great athlete: graciousness.

No, really. Whether you win or lose, I think you should do it with grace. Compare, for example, McKayla Maroni's lack of grace when she won the silver medal for vault with Morgan Uceny's agony when she tripped during the 1500m final. Maroni's refusal to shake the hand of one of her competitors and then her "not impressed" face did not impress me. Certainly she should have done better and will probably have dreams about that vault for the rest of her life. But the way she acted when she lost made it feel like it was someone else's fault, somehow. When Uceny fell during her race, she abandoned herself to despair with a fulness of purpose that doubled my own tears for her. (What can I say: I tend to cry a lot when I watch stuff.) She pounded on the track and wept and you could tell it wasn't out of disappointment for "only" getting a silver. It was sheer, unadulterated grief that felt sincere instead of whiny. The tumble meant that she didn't get the chance to show the world what she could do, but her reaction to it showed the depth of her dedication.

Equally bitter was the Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang's grief. He was favored to win the 110m hurdles during the Beijing Olympics but an Achilles injury stopped him. This Olympics that same injury came back to haunt him, and he fell by hitting the very first hurdle. Then he hopped---he hopped!---the length of the race where he stopped to kiss the last hurdle, and then other athletes came to help him. This, in fact, might have been the most moving moment for me of the entire Olympics, both because of his courage and because of those other athletes helping him. 

Which really sums up the entire Olympics experience from my perspective: I like it when underdogs win. I like to watch the stories behind the athletes. I like seeing people be rewarded for their hard work. But of all possible athletic prowess, from speed to agility to strength to skill, the one that impresses me most is graciousness, win or lose.

Which were your favorite Olympic moments?

Comments

trinaaly

Yeah.The Olympic make me exciting.I love Diving.

Becky

I loved the Olympics this year! Partly it was because my kids were really into it, which makes me happy. My favorite moments:

- Watching Ponor in his semi final. I too was impressed with the winner of the heat exchanging numbers with him. (It makes me want to cry just writing it!)

- watching the 10k track event - it was so exciting! Watching Alberto Salazar's athletes come in together at 1 and 2 was amazing. I loved the look on the gold medalist's face - he was watching from the corner of his eyes to see who was around him. Priceless!

- Missy Franklin. Any event she swam I loved watching. She had so much energy and was so happy - love her.

- All of the swimming. My new-found appreciation of swimming made each event fascinating. I liked the swimmers a tad more than the runners - they didn't look as overheated afterward, and their antics were generally less dramatic. I can't stand watching the sprinters on the track act like gods because they ran super fast. What makes them so cocky? It bugs me.

- I guarded the floor and beam finals just as closely as you did. All of the other events outcomes were ruined by the internet in one way or another so I watched them knowing nothing. It was so exciting! I loved watching floor - the Americans sucked at dancing and had horrible floor music, but the other finalists were so beautiful they made me ache. The Romanian in the blue leotard - gorgeous, even if her floor music did bore her to sleep. And watching the russians dance in their routines - beautiful.

I could go on & on. Loved the Olympics! Still sad that they are over.

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