Sunday, August 5, 2012

How To Be An Olympic Idiot Without Even Trying

(From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR)

Most Americans don’t know a pommel horse from Secretariat from the plastic pony it costs a quarter to ride outside Wal-Mart.

Yet once every four years, most all of us suddenly become experts in not only the pommel horse, but also in floor exercise, foil, fencing, kayak and canoe.

The Olympics bring out the “Manifest Destiny” American in us all.

“WHAT? How can they score him that LOW? What are the judges THINKING?” 

I don’t know, but I ask just the same. If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I can’t even keep up with how many flips these people are turning in the air. Olympians defy gravity and all logic that would suggest what a human body should and should not be able to do.

That must be one reason we watch the Olympics, which television ratings suggests we surely do. The allure of the barely imaginable. Even if we aren’t sure what’s going on.

“What do they do next?”

“Either the one bar thing or the rings thing.”

“Are we good at the one bar thing?”

“What do I look like, a pommel horse? Bruce Jenner? I don’t know. I’m just trying to figure out why all gymnasts are shorter than my grandmother.” 

Why do we watch so religiously? You could televise the 10 best gymnasts on a mat in a cage match in prime time on a day I’m recovering from surgery, and I still wouldn’t watch it.

World Championships? Neg. Pan Am Games? Paint drying.

Same thing with amateurs who could swim the English Channel with one arm and their goggles tied behind their backs. Divers who would twist and turn from the top of the Empire State Building into a tuna can filled with water. For 206 weeks every four years, I don’t care.

But for the two weeks of the summer Olympic Games, most of America will dig in. We bring argumentative passion to The Games, either because we are patriotic, competitive, or because ignorance is bliss. It’s quite the pleasure to be sitting in your living room, yelling at an American swimmer you’ve just met to “finish strong!” and notice that other people around your TV set are doing the same thing. 

If it’s the Olympics, we’re in. Even if a Jungle Gym is as close as we’ll ever get to the balance beam.

Plus these are the only two weeks of the year when you can say “breaststroke” and “shuttlecock” and not get looked at funny.

I have watched no basketball and probably won’t. Didn’t watch any Olympic baseball from China in ’08. No soccer. Even the bikinis on the beach volleyball venue don’t do it for me. Seen all that.

And as much as I love a horse, I won’t watch a guy in a suit ride his pony when the pony looks like he’s been to the beauty shop. Don’t really get it.

Yet that very allure of the unknown is part of the Olympic appeal. That, and the chance to watch something you can hook history on to: “Is he as good as Mark Spitz?” Or, “She’s good, but she’s no Mary Lou!”

The Olympics. I’m used to the more Americanized sports, but it’s rare I see people swim or run this fast, spin in the air this much, or dive without yelling “Cannonball!”

So let’s go get ’em this week, faithful viewer. Stick your landing. Stick it!