Despite their flaws, Olympics are still pretty tough to beat
- Matthew Sherman
- Lake Oswego Review - Sports
So help me, I still love the Olympics. That may seem like an obvious statement. After all, a lot of people love the Olympics, but it seems like those numbers dwindle every four years.
Media members love discrediting the games because of the rampant use of illegal drugs and shady officiating in sports like gymnastics and boxing.
And are they right? Sure. But with steroid use in baseball and football and a referee betting scandal in basketball, let's come off our high horse a bit.
The Olympics are unlike any other sporting event in the world for a number of reasons.
First, they get you to care about things like synchronized diving to an inordinate degree.
When you think about it, the fact that one's heart rate can be so drastically affected by saber fencing, a sport that I still don't fully understand the rules of, is completely illogical.
Honestly, in the past four years, I spent as much time thinking about competitive swimming as I did thinking about the lesser works of Henrik Ibsen.
If I were to tabulate important things in my life two weeks ago, the U.S. women's gymnastics team would have fallen somewhere between Angelina Jolie's twins and how my hair looks on a daily basis.
But now? I'm going to be honest, as I'm writing this I'm fretting just a little bit about how Chellsie Memmel's ankle is going to hold up in the second stage of the team competition.
It's admittedly crazy. I even found myself rooting a little too hard for an air pistol competitor from the Czech Republic the other day.
The beauty of the Olympics is that not only do obscure and often bizarre sports become so important for two weeks, but everyone instantly becomes an expert in them as well.
Two nights ago I routinely chastised a U.S. badminton player for hitting shuttles that certainly would have landed out of bounds. What was she thinking?
Plus, her Chinese competitor was clearly drawing her close to the net and then drilling lobs over her head. Why didn't she start closer to the net to take that option away?
My wife didn't know either and promptly went back to her book.
I can always judge how big a sporting event is by how much my wife gets emotionally invested.
The opening round of this year's British Open? It received a sigh and an eye roll. This year's Super Bowl? Some enthusiastic clapping as Eli Manning hit Plaxico Burress in the end zone.
But, at the exact second when Jason Lezak out-touched France's Alain Bernard in the 400-meter freestyle relay on Sunday night, I looked over to see my pregnant wife standing on top of our couch shouting incoherently. That's a big event.
And the Olympics also do a phenomenal job at manipulating our emotions with human interest stories.
Four years ago a Korean swimmer fell into the pool before the start and was disqualified. This story and footage was shown with sad piano music in the background.
So, when that same swimmer took to the blocks this time, his biggest supporter was not South Korean president Lee Myung-Bak, but rather a 28-year-old blonde American woman in suburban Portland.
Lastly, no matter what may be happening domestically and no matter whose politics you agree with, nothing is more unifying than the Olympics and it's the only time when being xenophobic is accepted and even encouraged.
On the first day of competition I found myself despising the nation of Latvia for besting our men's beach volleyball team.
Not just the two players, the entire nation.
'Look at us! We're Latvia! We have the highest Gross Domestic Product in Europe!' I really wanted Phil Dalhausser to show them how we spike in America.
And nothing gets up my ire more than trash talkers from other countries. On Sunday night, NBC couldn't stop talking about how France spoke poorly of America's 400 relay team and practically guaranteed victory.
Really France? You want some?
That added caveat made one of the most incredible finishes I have ever seen that much sweeter.
Don't worry France you'll always win the gold medal for surrendering.
There is no doubt that, in two weeks, with football season approaching, the pommel horse will fade out of my lexicon and I will become indifferent to Uzbekistan again until 2012 but, until then, I will continue to thoroughly enjoy this ride.