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The Olympics on Steroids

21 August 2008

I wasn’t planning to do a blog post on the Olympics, I really wasn’t. After all, there are plenty of bloggers out there with wittier turns of phrase and a keener sense of the sporting world. Then I found this e-card, which of course made me think of my family (really, it makes sense – see below), and it all came to me pretty suddenly. The Olympics ain’t what they used to be. At least for me. At least this year.

I love the Olympics, always have. I love the idea of people excelling and doing the most amazing things that I wouldn’t be able to do in my wildest dreams. I love the world coming together in some healthy competition for once. I love the dramatic stories – from 1936, when Jesse Owens defied the Nazis by winning four gold medals right in front of Hitler’s viewing stand, to today, when a Lost Boy of Sudan proved to the world that he will overcome as he carried the flag of his new nation in the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. And, unlike a number of people, I love that the Olympics can be used by those caught in the shadows (the oppressed in Tibet, political prisoners, etc.) to shed light on the abuse they suffer, drawing a little bit of the world’s attention while it’s finally focused for a brief moment in one place. For me, the Olympics are not about nationalism or even patriotism (though I can get caught up in the Medal Count same as everyone else) but about the beauty that can happen when all the nations come together to be the best they can be… and all that idealistic, cue-the-stirring-music, hand-on-the-heart stuff.

Some of my favorite memories from growing up are from watching the Olympics with my family. We would gather around the TV, choose an athlete to cheer for (Li Xiaoshuang! Li Xiaoshuang!), and join Bob Costas in some colorful commentary of our own. (Me: “How do they decide who gets to carry the flags?” Bob Costas: “The way they choose the flagbearers is….” Whoa.) And there was the way we always had to pause for the Dick Enberg Moments, those wonderfully tragic yet hope-giving back stories that left us wanting to stand up and sing the national anthem of whatever country was being put on display at that moment.

However, now, looking around me here in India, I wouldn’t know that there is an awe-inspiring, international sporting event for the ages going on. In fact, when Abhinav Bindra won India’s first-ever individual goal medal two weeks ago (in 10-meter air rifle), I had to inform a number of my co-workers. The response: “Good for him.” Whereas an American colleague and I would regularly relay across the office updates on Phelps-A-Thon 2008, my Indian colleagues would only give us quizzical looks and return to their work. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe they’re paying more attention than I think, but it doesn’t seem that way.

And then, when I do update myself on the Olympics, I just get frustrated. A 7-year-old lip-syncing at the Opening Ceremonies because the original singer isn’t pretty enough, digitally-enhanced fireworks so they seem more impressive than they actually are, paid cheerleaders filling out the judo stands, jerry-rigged gymnastics rules allowing little, flexible girls to put down their Polly Pockets long enough to win a gold medal. (And lest you think I’m picking on the Chinese Olympics Committee (or whatever they’re called), know that I’m just as frustrated by the antics of the Spanish basketball team.) These Olympics strike me as fake, kind of like a doped-up athlete. The Olympics on steroids – it’s almost the truth, only “enhanced.”

So maybe it’s good I’m not getting to see the Olympics here, that our TV shows nothing but a blank screen, YouTube takes too long to load, and NBC’s videos are not available in my country. Because I can hold on to those memories and remember what the Olympics used to be for me and hope in four years, London does it better. (As it inevitably will – I am such an Anglophile.)

Carl Lewis - A True Olympian.

Carl Lewis - A True Olympian
(Though this picture does make you wonder if, had he just shaved his moustache and chest hair, Daniel Day-Lewis back there would have had a fighting chance…)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 August 2008 2:09 am

    It’s the hot topic around here. You’d think that the people of India would be stoked to win their first gold! I don’t understand other cultures sometimes. The photo commentary on Carl Lewis and Daniel Day-Lewis made me almost pee my pregnant pants. You are so funny!

  2. Mom permalink
    23 August 2008 11:56 pm

    I really enjoyed our family Olympic viewing time too- great fun.

  3. D.A.D. permalink
    25 August 2008 5:33 am

    Why did NBC spell Li Xiaoshuang’s name differently? I almost missed him! But, again, he won the Gold!!!

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