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We interrupt regularly scheduled programming so that I can say…
It’s the best time of my winter—it’s the Olympics! During this two week period I watch more sports than I will for the next 206 weeks put together.
What I like about the Olympics is the way it erases borders. You can’t help cheering for everyone, regardless of flag—you can’t help wincing on their behalf at a fall or a wipeout. Which is not to say that you aren’t partial to whoever is representing your own country—but it’s different from other sports. It’s a far cry from the way we choose a ball team and hate everyone else. Take the big college rivalries. For many people it’s all in good fun, but for many others, there’s a nastiness involved in KU vs. MU that I find incomprehensible.
The Olympics aren’t like that. How can you help feeling for a Georgian luger, and all his teammates and countrymen? How can you help being thrilled for Alexandre Bilodeau, winning the first Canadian gold on home soil? How can you not choke up, hearing a stadium full of people singing “O Canada” so loudly that you can hear it three thousand miles away? My delight in his victory is no less than my delight in watching Shaun White last night in the half pipe or Shani Davis or Lindsey Vonn win gold.
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The greatest injustice is that we only pay attention once every four years. These athletes are training on a whole different level than anyone else we idolize as a sports hero. Ball players have ten or twenty or ninety games in which to show their prowess, over the course of a season. Olympians get one shot—and the sacrifices they make to get there are, I feel safe saying, far more than those made by 95% of your ball players. It’s so far above what any of us can comprehend—so far beyond team practices and professional sports.
And almost to a person, they are smart, articulate people. Despite an almost incomprehensible devotion to their one specialty, they are educated and balanced individuals. It’s a far cry from what comes out of the mouth a lot of ball players, college or pro—let’s be honest! College players leave school to pursue multi-million dollar deals as professionals, and thus deprive themselves of a healthy balance in life. And we justify it, saying, “Oh, if they get injured in their last year of college, then they’re done.” We justify obscene salaries, saying, “If they get injured they’ll never be able to play again.”
Considering all of that, maybe the “under the radar” status of the Olympians is a blessing, the thing that protects them from a false sense of being the center of the universe. But I think they deserve the kind of ecstatic support that we give to football, basketball and baseball players. Go to Teamusa.org to keep up with them!