I can say with all honesty that I am so incredibly sad that the games of the 30th Olympiad have now drawn to a close. I cannot remember the last Olympics to which I paid as much attention as these London games. I know I went to the baseball games at Dodger Stadium in 1984, I remember watching Greg Louganis in 1988, but after that, I don’t really remember watching 1992 or 1996 or 2000 or 2004 or 2008. But for some reason every evening I was glued to my television screen, excited to see the games, the athletes, the competitors, the kids…
I think that part of it was being forced to watch the opening ceremonies because my 6½-year-old daughter wanted to see them. She was so excited about the Olympics that we stayed up late into that first Friday evening, sitting on the floor with a bowl of popcorn, watching the Queen jump out of an airplane, Mr. Bean run on the beach, and Mary Poppins fly through the air. The joy and thrill that was evident in my daughter’s eyes was intoxicating and absorbent. And thus every evening we were on the floor watching and marveling at the athleticism and dedication of these athletes. It is because of these nightly appointments with the television that my daughter knows Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber, Missy Franklin and Michael Phelps; and of course, Misty May-Treanor and her Los Angeles Dodger husband. It truly was a thrill for her to give a shout out to the Dodgers after winning those matches.
I will remember the near tears of the Russian gymnasts as they watched the American girls on the vault, the “Call Me Maybe” parody by the swim team, and the speed and determination of Sanya Richards-Ross.
The thing that made the Olympics such remarkable television was the personalities of the athletes and their innocence. When the Star Spangled Anthem was played, you could see the emotions on their faces, the tears in their eyes, and the pride in their hearts. The time, energy, and determination were not only evidence, but were rewarded in the opportunity to wear the uniform with “U.S.A” across the chest.
I consider myself to be extremely patriotic and supportive of our country, the greatest country in the world. There is no other country in the universe that can provide its inhabitants with such opportunity to succeed. But imagine my dismay when the very last Olympic event that I watched during these games was the Gold Medal game in Men’s Basketball. I want the Americans to win, but not like that.
The thing that makes the Olympics so important and watchable is the fact that the athletes appear to be there for the right reasons. They don’t do it for the money or the fame; they do it to represent their country. There is something about the honor of being selected to represent your country that has to be unequaled. If I had excelled in any sport to warrant selection to an Olympic team, I would consider that to be the pinnacle of my career.
So when you see success by Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas, you can’t help but feel enormous pride for our country. These athletes are our future and they are showing the way with their dedication and athleticism; to be able to perform on the world’s largest stage and succeed is a true demonstration of leadership.
In that vein, then, I was always under the impression that the Olympics were for amateurs, the athletes who competed for their country, not for money or fame. They were ordinary people who were able to accomplish amazing feats. Mary Lou Retton, Carl Lewis, Kerri Strug, they became household names because of their accomplishments.
So why did it then become necessary to have professionals begin to participate? There is something anachronistic in cheering on Serena Williams in her Olympic tennis matches or watching Roger Federer play Andy Murray or Kobe Bryant play Pau Gasol. These are professionals and they are taking spots on the Olympic teams away from the amateurs. If I had been a better baseball player and was one of the top collegiate performers but was passed up for the Olympics because Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia were playing instead, it would have been devastating.
The Olympics should be about goodwill and patriotism, not about winning. You can have strong national support just as easily with amateurs as you can professionals. In a radio piece I heard the other morning, the reporter from the LA Times was remarking about how the spectators at the events were rooting against the Americans and he couldn’t understand it. I certainly can. In addition to being the greatest nation in the world, we are also the most athletic. It is the same way I feel about the Yankees winning all of those World Series’ – give someone else a chance.
And when we stack the deck, enlisting the services of our greatest, most prolific, professional athletes, we look like we are just rubbing it in, as if we are participating in the games only to win and not for the joy of being able to represent our country.
Watching Lebron James and Carmelo Anthony receiving their gold medals unraveled all of the pride and nationalism that had been built up in me over the previous 16 days. Instead, I left with the feeling of the giant chasing Jack down the beanstalk and landing on his feet, little Jack and his mother squished underfoot.
No wonder they hate us… no wonder they root against us. They cheered for Aly Raisman when she won her gold medal in the floor exercises– that is the purity and innocence that the Olympics should strive for. I would much rather the Americans win less medals but give more true amateurs the opportunity to represent their country, something that will surely be the highlight of their lives, then to watch a professional athlete who gets paid millions, who has already won championships and countless awards, win just another trinket to put on their mantle.
Call me cynical; tell me I am wrong, it is ok. It’s how I feel. I would rather watch true amateurs than the superstars—because it is truly devastating when they lose and the rest of the world laughs at us for putting our very best professionals up and watching them fail. I would rather watch the people who truly want to be there for the right reasons…
Don’t understand what I mean? Watch the closing ceremonies again and witness the joy and glee of the athletes who are just there to party and have fun. This is the true highlight of their lives… and I am so thrilled for them.