By: Matt Gordon
It’s the Olympics! Every four (or five) years, those horns and drums march in a Costas or Tirico to tell us what we already know—for the next few weeks, your life will pretty much be a total waste.
The Olympics make me feel all sorts of things, but the first and most prominent is a realization, pretty much the whole time I’m watching these world-class athletes I’ve never heard of, that I can do what they are doing. “Seriously,” I’ll shrug, “I can do this!” I don’t even need to witness some made-up sport long enough to know the rules to be pretty certain I missed my calling, or that perhaps there is still time. But since I’m covered in body fat and Doritos crumbs at present, I resort to teaching rather than doing. “TORQUE THE HANDLEBARS!” I’ll yell at the BMXers. “PICK UP YOUR FEET,” I’ll chide the dancing horses. “ROTATE!” spews the rage for every lazy gymnast who settles for a double when a triple or quadruple is just a rotation or two away. Sometimes I just yell, “HIPS!” because it seems like a waggle here or there—Shakira, Shakira—would right the ship in most of these contests. My favorite, though, due to its sheer widespread utility is, “GO FASTER!” It baffles me that no caring coach has taken these impressionable athletes by the face and taught them through shouting that if they just went faster they’d win the race. It is sad really.
Also sad is how some fans totally lack self-awareness. I walked by a person I had never spoken to in my life yesterday—yes, a stranger. A TV was on showing swimming. We both did the obligatory stop-and-stare that is required of bad traffic accidents and Olympic events, and he said, “I could swim like them if I could swim better.” How does one respond to that? It irritates me that regular people think they could just walk off the street and do what master Olympians and I can do. Talk about delusional. “No you couldn’t,” I reminded this stranger and then walked athletically away.
But delusion isn’t the only strangeness the Olympics invoke. Patriotism comes with the territory. You can see the red-white-and-blue zeal in people’s eyes. And it seems they have fewer ways of showing this fervor, as one sees less and less American flag merchandise spilling out of local truck stops. I blame the camouflage craze myself, but it could also be any of the following reasons: COVID shortage, inflation, big government, the Russians, or the housing market. It seems like those cover most things these days, and is the reason I gave my wife yesterday when I missed trash day and left the garage smelling like an oven-roasted landfill. “Sorry, dear. Dang inflation got us again.”
Anyway, I had a meeting with one of these patriotic sorts the other day—he was all hopped up on the parallel bars or short track cycling or something—and you could just see the blazing passion burning forth from his ember eyes, like a couple of little facial gold medals. His only outlet became clear almost immediately—he shook my hand. But this was no regular handshake, no, no. This shake was the Battle of Bunker Hill; it was fireworks and fried foods and float trips. It went on for an hour—the meeting, not the handshake. The handshake was way longer than that, a forcible, oafish up-and-down gyration to the cadence of Battle Hymn of the Republic. When we finished I glory-glory-hallelujahed my way back home to ice my hand and watch some horse dancing.
Oh, yeah, that is another thing. Some of these Olympic sports make no sense. There are some varieties that naturally seem to represent and derive survival. Like running. People have done this sort of race—like from bears or bullies in Junior High—since the dawn of time or puberty. Swimming, same thing—bears and bullies both swim. The shooting events make a lot of sense. As does the fencing—though no fences are involved. “Stand there and whack someone while trying to prevent them from whacking you.” Yep, a tale as old as time. Taekwondo, wrestling, even gymnastics because sometimes you have to be creative when running from a bear or bully. Gymnastics is a visual representation of every time in life I’ve seen a snake or stick that sort of looks like a snake.
But then we have things like horse dancing. Never in battle history have opposing cavalries lined up before bludgeoning each other, only to have their horses perform the Cha-Cha Slide or Palomino Polka. Or water polo. The only time I’ve seen something close to that is when an unseemly object happened to be in a swimming pool. And I didn’t throw that to my buddy who threw it to another buddy, to then be thrown in a goal. No, I profusely apologized, explained a condition that can sometimes happen when one mixes a lunch of Mexican food and a balmy afternoon swim, then quietly removed the unseemly object and myself from the aquatic area.
Truth is, most of these sports don’t make a lick of sense. Which is half the fun. One game I like to play is watching these sports on mute. I just sort of observe like Darwin in Galapagos or something. But added to this astute reflection is loud observation. “You get three steps, then a dribble, then three or so more steps.” Other observations follow willy-nilly: “She just doesn’t have it today” and “Stick that!” and “Hooves up, hooves up!”
Sometimes, though, I turn the volume way up. Usually when my family is around and distracting me with their incessant need for my attention. “Son, I have the next four years to deal with the small house fire you set. Not now, it is Badminton Mixed Doubles!” When attention is properly restored, I’ll make sure to loop everyone in on the action. “It’s called a shuttlecock,” I’ll say to no one. Because no one is left. It’s just me and the Games. Patriotically, I press on and assure myself that they’ll be back in a week or so. For now there are serves to return, shots to shoot, and medals to be won. But don’t worry, America, I won’t let you down. I can do this.