Saturday, August 18, 2012

Olympic Sized Hangover

I love the Olympics for so many different reasons. The opening ceremony! Parade of Nations! The amazing athletes and their almost super-human achievements! New sports! Hot bodies! So much to see and think about, like, 'What would it feel like to pole vault?' or 'How the HELL do the rhythmic gymnasts bend their bodies that way???' And, of course, coming from Jamaica I have to watch the athletics. I don't think anyone who hasn't seen where many of our athletes come from can truly appreciate how far they've come to be on the world stage, winning medals and hearts. It always makes me feel like I'm about to burst with pride.
But the thing I love most of all are the stories.
They can be heroic or sad, inspirational or distressing, but with this many focused, determined people in one place you know there are a million stories worth hearing. Mark Oldershaw of Canada following in his grandfather, father and uncle's footsteps to compete in canoeing. Usain Bolt's support of his small village and the schools back home that nurtured his talents. British diver Tom Daley's loss of his father and determination to continue on toward his Olympic dreams. Mo Farah's amazing win in both the 5000 meters and 10,000 meter races. The sad case of Australian pole vaulter Steven Hooker who, after winning gold in Beijing developed a fear of heights and didn't qualify for the finals in 2012. My mingled joy and devastation as the Jamaican men won the gold medal in the 4x100 relay and the Canadian team was disqualified after coming in third. I was riveted to my TV, taking it all in.
And with a tradition this long standing, Olympic history has so many other stories that are well worth hearing over again. This year was the 100th Anniversary of Jim Thorpe's amazing win of gold medals in both the pentathlon and decathlon. Rarely mentioned is his fourth place in the high jump competition and seventh place finish in the long jump, or the fact that someone stole his shoes just before competition, and he competed, and won, wearing discarded shoes he found in the garbage. And, with the new political correctness, no one mentions anymore that he was part Native American. His story had an unhappy ending, as he was stripped on his medals because he'd played two seasons with a professional baseball league, apparently earning somewhere around the equivalent of $50 during that time. Thirty years after his death the medals were reinstated, but that doesn't change the fact that the man who received a ticker-tape parade on his return to the US died in poverty, and lived much of his life saddened by the desertion of the same people who'd lauded him.
I miss the excitement of the Olympics, the stories, the what ifs. Higher, faster, stronger takes on so much more meaning each time the games roll around. I'm left with a sense of wonder, an impression that while we all can't win races and break records, the fact that these people can, and with such style, a grain of that greatness lies in all of us, if we could just find, hold on to, and live it. Live our own Olympics, every day.

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