Friday, August 8, 2008

Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni!

I love the Olympics!

I have every opening ceremonies, gymnastics, and figure skating competition on VHS (getting obsolete) since 1992 - when I was 11 years old. Even without those tapes, I can remember the wonder of the “snow globe women” who carried the signs and lead out each of the country delegations in Lillehammer. I remember how I felt when Shannon Miller got the same vault score as Tatiana Gutsu in Barcelona, and being enraged because Tatiana had clearly bent her legs in the air – and she wound up winning the gold. I’ve watched the tapes so many times – in the summer, in the winter, whenever I got the “urge” especially in non-Olympic years – that I can tell you every single score that every single athlete received. But it’s not just the winners, or the Americans that I root for. I enjoy the whole Olympic process. I love watching someone who has trained their entire life put it all out on the line for that moment – which for a sprinter could be less than 10 seconds. I love watching the people who are thrilled with a top 25 finish, or to make it to the semi final round. I love to watch the moments of triumph – whether that’s a gold medal or a personal best.

I’m particularly excited about these Olympics because they combine my two favorite things – the Olympics and China. Does it get any better than your dream land, and your dream sport? Every montage will have pictures of that magical place that I have dreamed of and visited. It will be interesting to see the political plays, but for my One World, One Dream I’m most excited to see the sports in the settings.

The other thing that makes this the most exciting Olympics yet (and I went to the Salt Lake games and opening ceremonies, so I have to be pretty excited for this to be my favorite) is that in all past Olympics I was a spectator only. Now, although I’m clearly just as far away from getting a gold medal as I ever have been, I have been swimming and biking and running – and competing. I understand what it’s like to get in there and train every day and the joys and the failures of your work playing out on event day. It will be very interesting for me to see the athletes and the events (and I watch everything from judo to archery) in a different light. I’m looking forward to it. I’m also hoping that it will give me new daydreams to think about when I’m endlessly on the tready!

My favorite Olympic moment happened in the Sydney games in 2000. The Sydney games were all about swimming. The Aussies LOVE the swimming events. They also had a real world-class swimmer, Ian Thorpe, the “Thorpedo”. On the day of the 100 meter qualifications, the slowest three swimmers were in their own heat. You could feel the slowly building tension of the crowd for what would be coming later, but at this early morning heat, it was still pretty sleepy.

Due to the IOC’s wildcard entries, there were three athletes from developing nations. One of them was Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea. When the other two competitors false started, Eric had to do the 100 meters by himself, in front of a knowledgeable swimming crowd. No big deal? Well Eric had never swum 100 meters in his life. He had never been in a 50 meter pool. He didn’t even have a coach. He had been training for two months. His “trials” were more of a non-drowning contest, in a small hotel pool. The reality was that his wildcard entry had just gone from an opportunity to experience the Olympics and increase interest in his country to a nightmare of being in the spotlight on the world’s biggest stage, by himself. His very best was so poor, that at best he could be laughed at. Even I swim faster than Eric did.

Was he afraid? Maybe. But even if he was, he dove into the water by himself, and he flailed along. He crawled his way through the water slowly making it to the other side of the pool, and then he doggedly turned around and attempted to swim the whole way back. The entire time he was swimming he was the only person in the pool. This entire crowd watched every single labored stroke. By the end, he was completely spent, and those last few strokes look like an attempt to not drown more than an attempt to swim. But you know what? He did it. And every time I watch it (at the 1 hour and 23 minute mark on my VHS tape) I cry. The crowd initially laughs at him, but after a few strokes they realize what they are watching. The encourage him. They begin to cheer for him. By the end they are all screaming hoarsely in support to keep him going. It’s incredible to watch the human spirit – of people digging deep and looking beyond their expectations. At the end, when he was interviewed he said that the crowd was so loud he actually thought he had won a medal.

Even I, an Olympic freak by all accounts, have forgotten who won the 100 meter freestyle that day. But I will always remember Eric Moussambani. I hope that these Olympics bring more stories like his – and I am looking forward to all of the Moments.

Bei Jing Huan Ying Ni! (Jing Jing is by far my favorite Fu Wa!)

No comments:

Post a Comment