Monday, August 11, 2008

Glued to the Television (even more than usual)

I've never been much of a sports fan. I mean, I liked to play sports back when I had time and energy, but I never really got into watching them. Every time the Olympics came around, I could be counted on to at least try to catch figure skating or gymnastics, but that was the extent of it.

So I can't explain why, this time around, I've been glued to the screen each evening, avidly watching such thrilling events as beach volleyball, swimming and synchronized diving (by the way, synchronized diving may be the flat-out strangest sport I've ever seen, but it's really, really cool). The bicycling I can explain -- they're racing right along the Great Wall, and the scenery is so amazing that I'm surprised any of the athletes can concentrate on the race. The allure of the other sports remains a mystery to me, and yet I keep watching.

Part of it is the stories. I mean, c'mon. Germany has a 33-year-old mom on it's gymnastics team, and she kicks ass. As patriotic as I am, I really, really hope this woman brings home a medal, just for sheer balls. She's competing against girls 20 years her junior (does any single person in the world believe that the Chinese gymnasts have even reached puberty, let alone the mandatory minimum age of 16? A glance is all it takes to see that most of the team is made up not of women, but of children.), and more than holding her own. And then there's the swimming, where victory is literally measured in hundredths of a second. Both medal races last night were heart-stoppers with such tiny margins of victory.

I know China has its issues, and it's been interesting watching that play out in these games. They've certainly done a great job of throwing an event, and there's no doubt it's a beautiful country. But then there's the cheating thing. And one really gets the sense that the athletes on China's team aren't having any fun at all. Their superstar diver tells about how the first time she dove, she was so frightened that her coach pushed her into the pool. It was pretty clear that the path she's on was not her choice, but something pushed on her by adults when she was too young to resist. One of the gymnasts apparently begged her parents to let her quit the sport a few years ago, but she was urged (forced?) to continue. It seems such a horrible, lonely life, especially if it's not one being lived by choice.

All that aside, though, it's been a great Olympics. I see myself being glued to the TV for the rest of the week. After all, I have to know how beach volleyball turns out.

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