I happened to be home when the Olympics started.
“Might as well watch the Parade of Nations,” I thought and flipped on the TV.
There they were: the athletes from every corner of the globe, marching into the Olympic Stadium, waving flags, smiling, taking pictures and looking absolutely delighted to be there. The procession is always an impressive reminder of how big and diverse the world is, with little-known nations such as Andorra and Tuvalu joining heavyweights such as the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and Great Britain.
I didn’t intend to watch the entire parade but quickly got sucked in. I’d been planning to watch a movie but couldn’t quite bring myself to turn off the parade, and eventually I’d watched so much of it that I decided the movie could wait until after the athletes from the U.S. made their appearance. (Because the nations enter the stadium alphabetically, it takes a while to get to the U.S.)
A quick glance at Facebook revealed that a lot of people were less than impressed with the opening ceremony, but I actually enjoyed it — the excellent use of British rock music (I loved the fact that the British athletes marched in to David Bowie’s “Heroes”) and the weird and somewhat garish set pieces.
When it comes to the Olympics, my inner critic flies out the window. Sure, there’s stuff to criticize. But I can’t quite bring myself to do it. I’d even go so far as to argue that the event’s flaws are part of what makes it great.
For instance, any event that can get people arguing about badminton is my kind of event. I cannot begin to tell you how much joy it brought to my day to learn that there was a bona fide badminton scandal. Apparently eight female badminton players were expelled from the Olympics for trying to throw their early-stage matches in order to secure a preferable elimination-round seed. Now, if you follow professional badminton, I’m sure this is no laughing matter. But I do not follow professional badminton. And so, yes, it is a laughing matter.
(I know I said I wouldn’t complain about the Olympics, but here’s a complaint: I really want to watch the badminton, but it’s not getting any prime-time coverage. How am I supposed to marvel over how much different professional badminton is from the game I play with my family in the yard? Although we’re pretty tough. The last time I was home, my mom flipped over onto her head while trying to get a particularly difficult shot and my dad barred her from competition.)
There’s a lot about the Olympics that makes me laugh.
But what I enjoy most about the Games are the athletes.
The whole concept of synchronized diving struck me as ridiculous . . . until I watched some of it. It takes great skill to do what synchronized divers do. The same goes for weightlifting, archery, handball, gymnastics and judo. Of course, the sports I’m most interested in are the sports I enjoy most in real life, such as basketball and soccer. And I really like the swimmers, even the obnoxious ones, like Ryan Lochte.
Last week, my friend Cabot sent me a message suggesting that “the women’s volleyball team should pair off with the men’s water polo team and create a race of super-athlete supermodels,” and I replied that I was partial to the male swimmers, but that the water polo team was a reasonable substitute. I keep hearing people talk about how dumb Lochte is, and my basic feeling is: Who cares? He’s one of the best swimmers on Earth! Have you seen what he can do in the pool?
The female swimmers — Missy Franklin, Dana Vollmer, Allison Schmitt et al — are also very impressive, and one of the best things about the Olympics is that it highlights female athletes. Perhaps that’s why I feel like tearing out my hair whenever I read something criticizing the female athletes for their appearance.
For instance, one writer complimented the men for their gorgeous bodies, but derisively wrote that the women looked like linebackers. This is another way of saying that muscly men are attractive, while muscly women are not, and although everyone is entitled to their own preferences, good grief! These women are Olympians! They’re trying to win an international competition!
Now people are criticizing gymnast Gabby Douglas for her hair — for having a slightly unkempt ponytail, from what I can tell. Good grief! The teenager — nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel,” which I love — is doing things that would land most people in traction in the hospital. She’s won two gold medals, becoming the first woman of color to triumph in the individual all-around competition and the first American to win gold in the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. How many other people can say that? No one. Certainly not the sniping masses on Twitter.
And don’t even get me started on what people are saying about the female weightlifters. They’re weightlifters! They’re supposed to be big and strong!
Cynical as I am, I refuse to engage in Olympic nitpicking.
My basic feelings about the Games haven’t changed much since I was a kid.
They are ridiculous and great, self-important but also fun. They tap into my sense of patriotism and wow me with incredible physical feats. The Summer Games come but once every four years. I miss them when they end and look forward to their return.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.