I am an Olympic addict.
It happened to me during the Vancouver games in 2010. I was working part-time at the aviation museum in Ottawa and I had a lot of time to sit in front of the television and watch the games. Those games actually changed the way that I conduct my life. I was motivated to start working out more regularly. Initially, I tried to do something every day, and I actually succeeded for a month or two. Since then, I’ve slowed to maybe three workouts a week, but I’ve kept myself at that level for the 2 1/2 years since Vancouver. I was moved by the focus of these athletes, by watching them put all of themselves into a physical pursuit. I think there is something so worthwhile in it. It’s a kind of spiritual perfection.
I also get wrapped up in the competitive aspect of the games. I really got caught up in the medal count during the Vancouver games. I started watching sports like curling, just because I knew that Canada had a medal hope (and in fact, curling was really fun to watch). But ultimately, I think I love the Olympics because of the achievement of the athletes – not the competitiveness. Beating other athletes is just a measure of that achievement. Ultimately, I think the value of an Olympic performance comes down to whether the athlete gave it his all. I heard Simon Whitfield talking on the radio once about how he trains in order to “express his fitness completely,” and not in order to get on the podium. That makes sense to me.
And really, otherwise, you would go mad. Someone will always be better than you.
The triviality of competitiveness was really clear to me watching gymnastics. Seeing a gymnast just beaming because an opponent just fell on a routine. Of course, it makes sense – that fall means that the other gymnast will get a medal – but it must be a kind of hollow sense of accomplishment – she had already done her best routine – why should she celebrate or cry in disappointment depending on the performance of someone else?
This time around, I have again been working part-time at the aviation museum, but have also been rehearsing for a musical almost every day of the week during the Olympics. Right up until the games began, I felt none of the excitement that I had felt in 2010. I thought I might turn the man now and then. But from the very first swimming I watched on the opening weekend, I was hooked.
I’ve come home late at night from rehearsal, usually around 1030 or 11, and have watched an hour or two of the games that I’ve PVRed during the day. On days off, I watched several hours more.
Specific highlights have been: Gabby Douglas, Usain Bolt, Missy Franklin, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Michael Phelps.
I found myself much less interested in Canada’s performance. I watched NBC mainly instead of CTV. The commentary is simply better.
Bruce Arthur, who writes for the National Post, has been an absolute joy to read the morning after. I love his commentary.
Here he is writing about Missy Franklin: “she is this beacon of happiness, this totem of pure glee, even though she is from Aurora, Col., where tragedy struck so recently. But it has not touched her innocence, her earnestness, her radiant joy. What an amazing American thing.”
(By the way, as Arthur suggests in this article, I am indeed sick to death of hearing that Franklin has Canadian parents. It feels like some cheap attempt to take partial national ownership of her accomplishments. Let her be American.)
Now, here is Arthur writing about Canada’s loss to the US in the semifinals of women’s soccer:
“Because the Olympics are at their best when they deliver the kind of performance that makes you call or text or email or tweet your friends to tell them to get to a TV, do it, do it now. We were waiting for the elation of watching an athlete like Sinclair deliver the kind of performance you’re not going to forget, that this country should love her for. And we were waiting for the part that hurt, for the anger and the regret, because it meant it mattered, really mattered. It meant they made us care.”