Photo by Ministerio do Esporte / Danielo Borges via Flickr
This time around, I wasn’t really feeling it. The Olympics, I mean. Some moments it’s felt like I’m the only person in the world not glued to their television watching judo or handball. It’s not that I haven’t thought about them. The Games are unavoidable, the think-pieces countless, the medal tally present every time I leave my apartment. Even if it were possible, it’s not that I wanted to miss this cross-cultural, global experience. But despite all the great storylines NBC has neatly fed me, I haven’t really attached. And there have been some truly great storylines, poking at me in my detached state.
In swimming alone, I’ve almost been swept into the rush of the sheer history being made.
- Simone Manuel became the first African-American woman to take home an individual swimming medal.
- Katie Ledecky continues to break records, surprising no one with her first-place finishes, only with the dominance in which she’s reached them.
- Michael Phelps has officially transcended.
These aren’t small things. Yet I still find myself flipping channels. We get two weeks of Olympics relative to over 700 regular days (if you’re counting summer and winter Olympics as equally impactful, which I will). Two weeks in which to explore the boundaries of the human spirit. Despite it all, I’m risking wasting my eyes on a Criminal Minds re-run.
I can do better, coach.
I have six days to the closing ceremonies. Six days packed with 41 sports, many of which have been building to their medal events while I’ve been allowing the communal TV to show Real Housewives of wherever we are today, or tuning in to what I often need to hope are meaningless August baseball games. Thinking that the overwhelming nature of 41 sports might have been part of my original problem, I gave myself the weekend to feel out two well-timed, off-the-beaten path* options.
Photo by SouthEastern Star via Flickr
Events started on the 11th, but continued with daily events until the 16th and medal events from the 17th through 20th. I’d never followed badminton as a fan and in fact am so unfamiliar with the sport that I’ve continuously caught myself spelling it wrong here, but I’d spent a few weeks batting around a shuttlecock after-hours during an internship so I have the general concept down. I had never really figured out the rules (which I’m fairly certain was used against me during said previous experience, as if I needed a further handicap), but now was as good a time as any to learn.
Unfortunately, the NBC Olympics schedule and my DVR conspired against my plan to get caught up on badminton. I found myself with two hours of volleyball instead. This reassured me that leaving volleyball out of my original pairing of options was a fine choice, but it provided little insight into what it would mean to follow badminton for the coming week.
Photo by deportebalear via Flickr
In all honesty, I thought all the boats were bigger. Turns out sailing includes even what looked to me to be windsurfing. Further research revealed there are indeed windsurfing events within sailing, as well as “dinghy,” “skiff,” and “match racing.” So check the box for “plenty of room to improve my knowledge.” Sailing had started as far back as August 8th but had medal events starting on the 14th and continuing to the 18th. I began the weekend unclear if the experience of watching events on Rio’s Guanabara Bay was a pro or a con, but I was going to find out.
Despite all the news coverage preceding the events, the water looks lovely. I’m pretty sure the eye test doesn’t apply to water quality, but it does make it easy to forget what they’re sailing through. I managed to catch a mashup of events, watching boats of various sizes and crews skim across the water. The speed aspect of it all intrigued me most. Despite competitors flitting about maneuvering for every advantage, from the perspective of a television camera, the entire thing looks fairly sedate. In every race I watched, the victor seemed to cruise across the finish line uncontested. The announcers helpfully informed me this isn’t always the case, inspiring me to come back for more intense performances.
Ultimately, I committed to seeing sailing through to the end. I’ll check back toward the end of the week with my progress, see if this can stir any emotions, get that nationalism flowing, or perhaps awaken a new love for a new sport.
Wish me well.
And if it doesn’t work out, there’s always another chance: modern pentathlon and rhythmic gymnastics pack all their fun into three days at the end of the week.
*No disrespect meant to sports in this category. I wanted something I could get into, that I wouldn’t encounter without effort (and therefore wouldn’t be able to assume I’d absorb the experience through national headlines and tweets). If gymnastics hadn’t managed to capture my attention yet I didn’t want to risk a blog-based commitment as the only change.