For several decades I’ve been a dedicated, if not obsessed, Olympics watcher. I do not discriminate on sport – sure I like swimming and gymnastics, but I also enthusiastically spend hours riveted to the coverage of table tennis, team dressage, rhythmic gymnastics, and water polo. I love a good human interest story, and cheer for the underdog alongside the favorite. When my girls were little my husband joked that perhaps we needed a babysitter to watch the girls for the two weeks – since I was clearly distracted by rowing, fencing, and judo. In 2008 we held our own “Olympics” with a ceremony each night held in the playroom on a multi-tiered podium made of step stools. My girls, ages 2, 4, and 6, gave their best effort each day in modified versions of sports and diplomatically had a Bronze, Silver, or Gold “medal” for their efforts. Yes, my devotion to the Olympics can get a bit out of hand.
I love the Olympics moments that define the effort, dedication, and commitment to the love of sport. I admit, I prefer the humble, respectful, and gracious winners -and losers. My interpretation of the Olympics is skewed by the network coverage (heavy on track & field, light on weightlifting) – as this is the only way to see the games. However, last night, for the first time in decades of Olympic obsession I turned off the TV. I refuse to give a moment of precious time, or a breath of thought to ridiculous immature non-sport behaviors from athletes destined to fade into obscurity. Remember when Bob Costas had an eye-infection, and he stepped down from coverage because it was taking attention away from the real issue at hand – the athletes and the games? Last night NBC should have remembered, too. Last night, the second to last night of the games, should have been about the athletes – those still competing. Not enough of that going on? Show me a recap of the incredible, the astounding, the beautiful moments – from every country’s athletes and in sports that wait four long years for recognition.
Here is what I choose to remember about these Olympics.
The tears of the Brazilian Men’s Gymnastics duo of Diego Hypolito & Arthur Mariano, winning Silver and Bronze respectively, on the floor exercise. On the world stage, to stun yourself and the established front-runners, on home turf – their reaction is what winning a medal at the Olympics should feel like. Watch it. I dare you not to smile or cry, or both.
Abbey D’Agostino of the US and Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand getting clipped and careening to the track in the Women’s 5000m qualifier. And D’Agostino urging Hamblin up, pushing a stranger, but fellow runner, to persevere, making sure her competition didn’t let her Olympic dream slip away. And Hamblin encouraging D’Agostino, even after it was clear D’Agostino was severely injured, then waiting for her at the finish line, being the one to call for medical help. Winning is great, and having medals is a physical reminder of achievement. But if I think about the kind of athlete I want my girls to be – I want them to be a D’Agostino. I’d rather they be in the stands missing the final Olympic race, but on TV nonetheless, because of the person they are inside. Watch it.
Simone Manuel and Ibtihaj Muhammad – two very different American women in very different sports – breaking barriers and changing the landscape of sports right before our eyes.
I want to dance with Kiribati’s David Katoatau!
The point in the Men’s 10,000m when USA’s Galen Rupp clipped Great Britain’s Mo Farah – his training partner. Farah fell to the track, but rolled and bounced back up. Rupp visibly slowed, turned, and used precious energy to check in with Farah and make sure he was alright. Farah went on to take the Gold. Rupp finished 5th. Perhaps it cost Rupp a spot on the podium, and he shouldn’t have squandered those seconds, it is after all the nature of the sport and a hazard of running long distance track. At the end of the day I like to think that friendship was just more important. Oh, and as for Rupp – he took home the Bronze medal in the Men’s Marathon 8 days later.
Winning the first Gold medal EVER for your country- welcome to the top of the podium Fiji and Puerto Rico!
The stories of the elite, the names we know so well, acting like actual, good, human beings. Michael Phelps, embracing Joseph Schooling and speaking highly of him to the press, after Phelps tied for 2nd (gasp!) in the 100 Fly. The viral photo of a tiny Schooling meeting his idol – Phelps – years earlier, shows how much Phelps means to the sport, and the inspiration Olympians provide to kids around the world coming up in their sports. And, thanks to Schooling, – Welcome to the top of the podium Singapore!
Kerri Walsh-Jennings thanking every official, ball kid, and attendant at the match. Taking time to appreciate their contributions is a small act, but makes an impact. She may have walked away with Bronze instead of Gold- which is still quite an achievement, and if you don’t think so watch the Arthur Mariano clip again – but she looked like she was having one heck of a good time doing it!
This is just a smattering of small moments. There were so many, good and bad, over the 17 days. No athlete is perfect, either in competition or in life. But for these few weeks I choose to focus on the competition, the field, the pool, the course, or the mat – and take inspiration from what is happening there. Because this is more than enough to talk about and focus on – and when we get distracted we might miss out on a great moment of athletic achievement, camaraderie, perseverance, heartbreak or success. That’s what the Olympic Spirit is all about.
Check out a book about inspiring Olympians!
Wilma Unlimited by Kathleen Krull – Wilma Rudolph was told she’d never walk, let alone run, after polio left her leg paralysed. She refused to give up and chased her Olympic dream! PB
Duke’s Olympic Feet by Ellie Crowe – A Hawaiian legend goes for Olympic Gold! PB
Nadia: The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still by Karlin Gray – Nadia stunned the world with the very first Perfect 10 in Olympic gymnastics – the first of seven in the 1976 games! ER-2
Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds by Paula Yoo – Korean-American Sammy Lee overcomes adversity to become a doctor – and Olympic diver! ER-2
Touch the Sky by Ann Malaspina – Alice Coachman was an unlikely field athlete, but with perseverance she became the first African-American Woman to win Olympic Gold! ER-2
Twelve Rounds to Glory by Charles R. Smith Jr. – Follow the journey of “the Greatest” Muhammad Ali from his Olympic boxing Gold in 1960 to lighting the torch at the Atlanta games in 1996 in a series of lyrical poems. MR-5
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown – A team of unexpected rowers from the American West shock the world when they make it to the 1936 Olympics and challenge the German team. This is the young readers adaptation, for the original adult version click here. MR-5/6