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Monday, July 9, 2012

113

"Only You, Mary Lou": In Search of the Olympic Moment

The London Olympics are less than three weeks away, so naturally I’ve already started fighting with people about them. The other day I got into an argument with a friend when I began elaborating on how much I was looking forward to the Games (I had bought my commemorative Mary Lou Retton Wheaties box! I was already obsessing about the trials!) and he said that he wouldn’t be watching them because they were, in his opinion, “dull.” Even more annoying than that, however, was the fact that, the more I thought about it, the more I could see his point.

The first Olympics I remember watching were the 1996 Atlanta Games. I was eight years old and wanted to stay up past my bedtime to watch the end of the opening ceremonies, in part because of the mistaken belief that the entire Olympics was going to be broadcast right then and there. And the fact that this made more sense to me than the idea of an epic, impossibly varied smorgasbord of athletic display allows me some insight into my friend’s claim that the Olympics were “dull”: by our modern standards, they almost have to be. As a people, we rarely read long novels or have much patience for any story, written or filmed, that takes its time in unfolding. Television has become the only form of serialized narrative we regularly consume, but now that we can choose how and when we consume it, we often choose to take it in not over a period of months or years but during a single weekend (despite how stressful it is to watch more than two episodes of Breaking Bad in a row).

The Olympics are consumed by the vast majority of audience members as a television event, but one whose timing we cannot control. I have little doubt that, if the Olympics had not existed until now, and were proposed as a new venture but some ambitious entrepreneur, their creator would be regarded as stupidly overambitious, if not insane. They require tremendous amounts of money — both to broadcast and to host — and millions of man hours, and they are perhaps phenomenally ill-suited to the preferences of modern viewers. But they have been a part of our lives since before the advent of television, and so were not created with television audiences in mind; we grew up watching them, and our parents grew up watching them, and they are as much a given to us as election years.

The London Games will consist of athletes from 204 countries competing in twenty-six sports over a period of seventeen days, and are, according to NBC, worth $1.18 billion, the amount they paid for the broadcast rights last February. The 2008 Olympics were watched by 215 million Americans, making them the most-watched broadcast in the country’s history, and we can anticipate a similar viewership later this summer. The Olympics don’t care if we think they’re “dull” (though NBC executives probably do), and the most relevant question in all of this may not be why anyone could have the temerity to dislike the Olympics, but why so many of us love them as much as we do.

The answer to this question came to me while I was avoiding figuring it out, specifically while watching Grease on HBO Family. The problem with turning on Grease, at least for me, and saying “I’ll only watch it for a minute!” is that, unlike a lot of other movies that happen to be on TV in the middle of the night, it doesn’t contain one or two good moments you can wait for, watch, and then walk away from. If you start watching Grease you go straight from “Summer Nights” to that great sleepover scene, and then of course you have to at least hear Dinah Manoff say “I’m a terrific pen pal: hopelessly devoted to each and every one,” and then you have to wait around at least through the end of “Greased Lightning” so you can watch John Travolta rub Saran Wrap on his crotch (I ask you, why was this movie on HBO Family?), and then pretty soon the T-Birds are racing for pinks at Thunder Road and it’s two-thirty in the morning.

Of course, William Goldman said it more succinctly when he wrote: “I believe it was the late Rosalind Russell who gave this wisdom to a young actor: ‘do you know what makes a movie work? Moments. Give the audience half a dozen moments they can remember, and they’ll leave the theater happy.’”

In my opinion, when we watch the Olympics, we’re watching moments — and before we watch them, we’re waiting for them to happen. The beauty part — and maybe the most compelling reason for us to come back year after year, braving Coke commercial after Coke commercial — is that we know we will find them.  Every Olympics has a defining moment, and though these moments can vary depending on your country of origin (and on who you want to win), they nevertheless manage to distill, a manner that transcends national identity, all of the possibilities for transformation that the Olympics holds. The defining moment of the 1972 Summer Olympics (at least in my opinion — I welcome all counterarguments) was Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals, a record that went unchallenged until Michael Phelps won eight in Beijing.  The defining moment of the 1980 Winter Olympics was — at least to Americans — the Miracle on Ice, and the defining moment of the 1984 Summer Olympics was — despite the Los Angeles Games being as full of moments as an Olympics can be — Mary Lou Retton’s victory in the individual all-around.

I know of Mary Lou Retton only through her pop culture legacy and Bud Greenspan’s 16 Days of Glory (which chronicles her moment and many others with all the beauty and gravitas one could ask for). But I didn’t watch her on TV when she charged toward legend — eyes bright, Dorothy Hamill bob flying — and so when I wanted to understand just how big of a phenomenon Mary Lou really was, I did what I always do when I want to understand the importance of an event that took place in the eighties: I asked my mother about it. Not because she was especially in tune with sports or politics or pop culture or anything else that was happening at the time, but because she spend the better part of the decade first as a medical student, then as an intern, and then as a resident, and as such was completely oblivious to almost everything that happened outside a hospital. Among the things she doesn’t remember clearly are: the Iran hostage crisis, the Exxon Valdez spill, the Reagan assassination attempt, the Challenger disaster, and the “Thriller” video. What she does remember is Mary Lou Retton winning the individual all-around in the 1984 Olympics — not because she had any particular interest in gymnastics or even watched the Olympics that year, but because, in her words, “her face was everywhere. It was huge news. ‘Cause we had never really done much in gymnastics, you know, it was all Russia… I can see her face and her hair and everything. It’s printed indelibly in my memory. It was huge. It was just huge.”

It’s hard to quantify just how ready Americans were ready for — just how much they needed – Mary Lou. Because of the American boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Americans were hungry for any kind of victory at the summer Games, and because of their dismal history in women’s gymnastics — in the history of the games, they had taken home only a single medal, a bronze in 1948 for team all-around — the idea of an American gymnast winning anything was almost unimaginable.

The story that made Mary Lou’s moment possible is almost too well-known to bother telling — even if you don’t know the specifics, you can guess them with the knowledge you’ve gained from watching any other great Olympic moment, or for that matter any great moment in sports. There is the plucky underdog, the juggernaut opposition, and the moment of truth. The details, in Mary Lou’s case, were as follows: the Americans had already won a team silver medal, just behind the Romanian team’s gold, and now had progressed to the individual all-around, in which gymnasts would medal based their cumulative scores for the uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise, and vault.

Throughout the all-around Retton and Romanian gymnast Ecaterina Szabo were neck and neck, often separated by no more than a fifteenth of a point.  Szabo finished her last component as Retton was preparing for her final event: the vault. Szabo’s scores dictated what Retton needed to do: if she managed a 9.95 on the vault, she and Szabo would share the gold medal. Anything less and she would take silver. The only way to claim the gold was to score a perfect ten.

The vault is perhaps the shortest event in the summer Olympics — it makes even the 100 meter dash, which takes around ten seconds, seem sluggish. From the time Mary Lou started running toward the apparatus to when she landed on the mat, six seconds elapsed, but in those six seconds were the entire Olympics. Out of a three week event, it was six seconds that had changed everything, six seconds that would dominate people’s memory of the Games, six seconds that had embodied the story everyone had tuned in to see. Mary Lou had won the gold.

And this, of course, is the wonderful thing about the Olympics as well as the thing that might seem most frustrating to the DVR generation: we cannot control when we watch them, cannot construct a viewing experience for ourselves. Everyone is talking about them, or more to the point about a moment within them, and we simply have to go along for the ride. And, though we may want to argue against the story we are being told — Gymnastics is a destructive and abusive sport! Russia had boycotted the 1984 Games, so the Americans’ victory was only against Romania! Who’s to say that Mary Lou’s score wasn’t a fluke! — it seems ridiculous to do so. We live in a world where we are constantly fed stories whose pat logic we must question and fight, where businessmen and politicians explain away the harm they do to our country by positioning themselves and their constituents within a comforting narrative, one that we must do everything we can to explode. The narrative of the Olympics is one that cannot harm us, and so why resist being swept away by it just once every four years?

Because of my eternal bias toward figure skating, I have to admit that my favorite Olympic moment of all time came in the 1988 Winter Games, when Brian Boitano won Olympic gold. (Despite the fame that greeted him after his victory, my mother remembers nothing about it.) I watch it whenever I’m depressed or anxious, and I find it so inspiring — as America found Mary Lou inspiring, and so many other athletes we have known since then — because what he did was not really about skating but about the human ability to attempt something damn near impossible when you only have one chance to do it, and to do it not just successfully but beautifully.

And so, as we look forward to the upcoming games, it may be worthwhile to remind ourselves of what made us love past Olympics, and which stories allowed us to be swept away — if only for six seconds. Who did you fall in love with as a child? What performance made you leap over your couch onto a pad of cushions, stage a backyard decathlon, or pretend your bathing suit was a leotard and wear it all summer long? In less than three weeks, athletes from 204 countries will converge in London, and one of them will take home the defining moment of the Games. That — more than any medal — is the real prize at stake.

Sarah Marshall is a graduate student at Portland State University, where she recently wrote a term paper titled "Trying on the Glass Slipper: Harding, Kerrigan, and Figure Skating’s Scripted Narratives," despite the fact that the class she wrote it for was on Twentieth Century British Literature.



113 Comments / Post A Comment

LinaLamont

What? No! Of course I didn't cry when I watched that vault. Why would I cry? That's ridicu...

Yes. I cried. I'm crying. I will have cried.

LinaLamont

@LinaLamont Also, that Boitano link goes to Mary Lou again.

Was it this one? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmPt90PnRf4

Beaker

I am OBSESSED with the Olympics. I have forewarned all of my friends they will not see me for two weeks because I will be parked on my couch watching every minute (and when they do see me, I will be talking about the perfect moments I have already seen). Ones that stick out from early memories:

1996: Michael Johnson and his gold shoes
1998: Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski skating
2000: Marion Jones (who was my 6th grade hero until the Balco scandal broke my tiny heart); Eric Moussambani swimming alone and receiving a standing ovation (TEARS)

And I could go on and on and onnnnnn. 18 days until London!

New Hoarder

@Beaker YES! The swimming one! I couldn't remember his name of which country, but I keep remembering that moment as every Olympic season builds up, and horomomnes be damned I get so. Choked. UP.

living internationally

Sonia O Sullivan - such a brave performer who went through so many Olympic upsets (dodgy tummy anyone) and finally won a silver in Sydney. Schools and businesses all over the country stopped to watch the race. It was emotional.
Watch:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cksaqL6kPnY

In related news my tube station is having an Olympic rehearsal tomorrow morning - it is going to be BAD.

ghechr

One that I keep on replaying is Lolo Jones' fall in the hurdles in Beijing. Uuugh. That was terrible.

Beaker

@ghechr DO NOT SPEAK OF SUCH THINGS.

Ugh it makes my insides cringe picturing her face afterwards. Heartbreaking.

ghechr

@Beaker ok ok ok, what about a happier memory? Like when Kerri Strug did the vault on a sprained ankle to win gold and she was carried off of the mat by her coach? The tears, they are flowing.

Beaker

@ghechr Ahhh my heartstrings. That was such a great moment.

PistolPackinMama

@Beaker Wrong Olympics, but... seeing Torvill and Dean for the first time in 1984 in Sarajevo. Wow. Just... wow.

And Hassiba Boulmerka winning the gold in Barcelona. She was the subject of a BBC Sporting Witness recently and it was so good.

Bittersweet

@PistolPackinMama In 1980 I was obsessed with Eric Heiden and spent most of my free time that summer "speed skating" around my neighborhood, bent over, one arm swinging, on my brand-new sneaker skates.

I also loved Torvill and Dean, though. So great.

New Hoarder

@ghechr I always remember that moment through the Chris Kattan "Kippi" skit!

Xanthophyllippa

@Bittersweet I used to row with his dad. :D I can't remember now if it was the 2010 or 2006 Winters that had the "Olympic crush" commercials, but when I saw the Eric Heiden one I just about bust a gut laughing.

Slutface

I have an irrational hatred towards Mary Lou. Her perky face constantly on my tv annoyed me as a child and it does to this day. I DON'T KNOW WHY THOUGH!

Nadia is a goddess though.

Aspiriationally Natalie

@Slutface Jon Stewart once called Mary Lou "a human smile machine" and it's always stuck with me since.

WhiskeySour

It's weird. At no other time do I find myself being particularly nationalistic/patriotic or all that interested in televised sports. But the Olympics are just a whole different realm for me. I'm pretty much glued to the coverage: learning different athletes' names, picking favorites (sometimes, of course, midway through an event) cheering, talking incessantly about the Games. I think I got it from my mom, who could not care less about sports in any other context but always watched the Olympics.

I remember being six years old and sitting on the stairs to watch the Games. My mom was painting the basement and had the tv perched on the stairs so she could watch the Games while working.

I remember being so angry that I had to go to bed before the skating programs were finished at the 1994 Games. My parents taped it and I had to watch Tonya Harding and her skate lace issues the next day.

I remember being riveted by the 1996 gymnastics team and wanting desperately to become a gymnast, although I was far too old (and clumsy and chubby) to start.

I remember being truly outraged at Sale and Pelletier skating a truly gorgeous and flawless program at the '02 Games and yet being placed second.

I remember the mind-boggling opening ceremonies of the Beijing games and cracking up at Microsoft's Blue Screen of Death showing up during one of the key moments of the ceremonies.

I remember feeling weird about Usain Bolt being criticized for "excessive celebration." I think athletes at the Games have every reason to celebrate and I felt underlying racism was definitely playing a role in the criticisms.

I guess I really am an Olympics obsessive. Who knew so much of my brainspace was taken up by Olympics memories?

PistolPackinMama

@WhiskeySour Yes about Usain Bolt. What is that?

Fiddle dee dee

@WhiskeySour

"I remember being truly outraged at Sale and Pelletier skating a truly gorgeous and flawless program at the '02 Games and yet being placed second."

Word. And I am not even Canadian.

WhiskeySour

@Fiddle dee dee Neither am I. It was just outrageous. I mean, I guess they later received gold medals, which is nice, but still. Not the same.
I also still kind of miss the old scoring, even though the fully subjective nature of it caused the problem. It was so much easier to understand and digest.

TheAnticouth

@WhiskeySour Also from the 2002 Winter Games--Sarah Hughes coming from fourth in the short program (looking like a total long shot against Sasha Cohen, Michelle Kwan, and Irina Slutskya) and completely busting out triple after triple in the long program. Watching it was amazing--you could tell that she wasn't under as much pressure to compete as the other three, and that worked to her advantage.

New Hoarder

@WhiskeySour There are certain sports I like and enjoy, but I also don't really "follow" any athletes or many teams. The Olympics sucks me in everytime, though. I think when I was younger it was because of the pomp & circumstance (and also because I "participated" in the '96 Olympics by watching a local Olympic medalist run with the torch on its way to Atlanta), but as I grow older it's because I understand the athletes' dedication a little bit better. Some are professional athletes, some are college athletes, some have given up nationalities and time with family, some are parents, some are working class. I find the stories behind the glamour fascinating. It makes me think that this semi-lazy librarian can up and become a judo champ with the right combination of talent, dedication, and support. It's amazing.

PistolPackinMama

@WhiskeySour Speaking of race and things. Here is an American Experience documentary on Jesse Owens!

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/owens/player/

Love!

And also the reason I love the name Jesse.

large__marge

Joannie Rochette in Vancouver. ALL OF MY CREYS.

muddgirl

Count me as an Olympic lover - I've even been watching the trials.

The Mary Lou Moment of my generation is, of course, the 1996 Gymnastics Team event, when Kerri Strug vaulted on a sprained (broken?) ankle, sticking her landing on one foot. I remember watching it live and I will literally never forget it (although I did forget how they and botched the previous three landings...) - gosh, I'm tearing up even now, 15 years later, watching Bela carry her off.

ghechr

@muddgirl Yes 1000 times to Keri Strug!

WhiskeySour

@muddgirl Yes. I now know that Bela was an abusive asshole to the girls, but that image of him carrying Kerri will always be etched in my brain.

whimseywisp

@muddgirl YES 1996 GYMNASTICS. I was so sucked into the whole thing! What a huge moment.

Argyle

@muddgirl I'll never forget it either - my mom, sister and I were all on the couch, and as soon as she stuck the landing, we lept into the air. My mom was saying, "I don't believe it, I don't believe it!"

Of course, watching the video of it today is terrible, because JOHN TESH. Ugh.

Aspiriationally Natalie

HUGE Olympics nerd right here. I am pumped for the London Games - gymnastics and swimming are my main jams, but I plan on watching other sports as well (I have a weird fascination with pole vaulting, and will probably watch some soccer matches and the marathons as well because my dad likes them...)

I was too young for Mary Lou's triumph (in fact, to give you an idea of how young I am, my parents hadn't even met in 1984) and don't really remember the Magnificent Seven (but I did have the commemorative gymnastics Barbie), but I remember watching Carly Patterson in 2004 and just being so proud when she won and realizing how historic this was because it was the first time an American gymnast won during a fully attended Olympics... and then to stay up until 1:30 am even though I had class the next morning to see her training partner Nastia Liukin win the same competition four years later was just as great.

I also remember sitting on the couch with my family watching the 4x100 freestyle relay and cheering Jason Lezak on in the anchor position to win over the French (in fact, I still have the picture of Michael Phelps' expression from that race) and then later that week being in total shock when Phelps beat Cavic in the 100m butterfly by one one-hundreth of a second. I can't wait to see what kind of moments this Olympiad will bring!

ImASadGiraffe

Love this post!

I was born in 1984 and I got Mary Lou's autograph at the Olympic Tour after the 1992 Olympics. I was a Level 9 gymnast in 1996 when the US won the team gold and even watching the competition now makes me want to cry. I met Shannon Miller in 1997 when I was at gymnastics camp and still have the photograph of the two of us. Her coach taught me how to do a double-back on floor!

I am beyond excited every single Olympic year and this year is no exception!

EllyHigginbottom

USA! USA! USA!

I am definitely more of a winter Olympics girl, the Canadian ones? So amazing! Apolo Ohno was my Olympics boyfriend for a blissful couple of weeks. But any Olympics I love!

Secret time:
I was watching the Atlanta O's when I was in 8th grade (in a separate room from my parents because of being a preteen and all) and it was, of course, the Kerri Strug gymnastics event. And about a minute before she completed that final jump, I decided I was tired and I turned off the tv. Then of course my mother and father started yelling and I ran back to see what I missed and I had missed IT. The defining event of the '98 Olympics (minus that bomb). I had to watch it in replays. Ever since then, I've lied to people and said I saw it when it happened. Here, take my tiny American flag and my Michael Phelps wall poster....I don't deserve them.

(p.s. my autocorrect tried to change the names to Apolo Obnoxious and Kerri Struggle. Keeping it real.)

stalkingcat

My favorite moment(s) were watching the Dream Team in 92.

I was never really a basketball fan, but I always loved the Harlem Globetrotters. All those tricks were so amazing to watch, but it was of course fake. The Dream Team did all those same tricks against competitors who were actually trying to beat them ... and then posed for pictures with them afterwards. It was perfectly played basketball. And the great thing was that every game was pretty much like that, so it wasn't just a few seconds here or there, but hours of awesome playing. And it just hasn't been the same since.

HeyThatsMyBike

Sarah, gurl, come 2014 you and I are going to be spending hours a day discussing the Winter Olympics.

Sarah Marshall@facebook

@HeyThatsMyBike HELL YEAH GIRL! Did you hear Queen Yuna's going to retire after Sochi? Obviously it makes perfect sense because she'll be 23 by then, but if anyone can pull a Witt I think it's her.

HeyThatsMyBike

@Sarah Marshall@facebook Would kill to see her be a tiny 27 year old Carmen.

chevyvan

Count me among the Olympics (summer) obsessed. Mary Lou Retton was my hero when I was a little girl. I was 5 years old when she got her perfect 10 vault and I still remember it. My mom immediately enrolled me in gymnastics classes and I ran around in my little leotard and walked on the balance beam and swung on the uneven parallel bars...just like Mary Lou! The only thing that has come close to that moment for me was when Kerri Strug stuck her landing on that injured foot. ***SOB***

Nutmeg

The Olympics were kind of bumming me out this year (in 2008 I had just graduated high school and was watching the Olympics before I went off to college to become a major success! now I am watching them and I am a minimum-wage drop-out) until I found out today that a guy from my high school class is really going to be on the USA track and field team! I had heard he went to the trials, but just today I found out he's going to London. Am still kind of depressed about How My Life Turned Out- but I know Donn Cabral is going to do Glastonbury proud, and that makes me feel a hometown pride that overrides all other emotions.

CrescentMelissa

@Nutmeg Gurl, your life isn't over yet! Believe me.

HeyThatsMyBike

@Nutmeg Girl, if my math is right you are 22. Your life has not "turned out" any way by 22. You've only just begguuuuuuunnnnnn!

Also, go hometown guy!

HeyThatsMyBike

@CrescentMelissa jinx! But so very true!

Nutmeg

You folks are the greatest; I spend about 50% of my therapy sessions bitching about how stagnant my life is and my therapist is all, "Dude, you still have plenty time to turn that shit around," (except in therapese). Anyways enough of my bitching, this is going to be my year: IT'S THE FUCKING OLYMPICS (imagine me shooting guns in the air right now; imagine it because I don't have a gun permit, or guns)

HeyThatsMyBike

@Nutmeg We all go through slumps. This slump will end. You *literally* have your entire adult life ahead of you!

PistolPackinMama

@Nutmeg Also? I love the students who come back to college a whole lot. If/when you go back to school, you will make a prof very happy someday, promise.

HeyThatsMyBike

@PistolPackinMama This is SO TRUE! My faves are always my older students. Even the ones that are just a touch older (say 25 instead of 21 - though my favorite student ever was in his early 40s). They actually want to be there and tend to have some of the highest scores in my classes, write the best papers, etc. I love them! So @nutmeg, if you ever become one of those, somebody will appreciate you deeply!

effystonem

@Nutmeg Dude, I graduated college in 2008...when the recession hit BIG. I stayed at home for a year to save up money, not knowing what I wanted to do, and now I'm in LA doing an okay job that I'm sort of just starting to hate but I can't find anything that pays as (sort of) well as this one, so I am a little stuck for now. I feel really anxious and sad thinking about my other friends who are making bank in advertising and such but then I realize YO I AM 25. My life isn't set in stone, and neither is yours! We all figure things out eventually, sometimes it just takes longer. It also helps to not compare yourself to (what you perceive as being) others' successes - as my very wise friend said, we are all on our own timeline.

Xanthophyllippa

@HeyThatsMyBike @PPM Yes! And since they've actually done non-school things and might have actual lives, they'll be rolling their eyes at the rest of the students' undergraddy antics right along with you. Or, in my case, they'll do the eye-rolling that I cannot do and remain professional.

skhayden

I grew up in Atlanta and was 16 during the 1996 Olympics. Tons of locals thought the whole thing would be too much of a hassle and so they left town, rented their homes out, etc. My folks decided the Olympics are only coming to your hometown once in a lifetime, and we were going to do it up, by god. We got tickets to lots of early rounds to get the full scope of events (tennis, equestrian, soccer, baseball, fencing). When my parents saw Opening Ceremonies tickets available in the newspaper classifieds (pre-internet, what??), they jumped on them, and our family had the night of our lives. Until like a week later, when, after attending the morning compulsories of the women's gymnastics team competition, we were walking near Centennial Park and some guy was scalping tickets for that night's team finals. My dad whipped out some cash and bought the two tickets the guy was selling - he'd planned it all along as a surprise for me, should the opportunity present itself (I was a HUGE gymnastics fan since Barcelona - still think Vitaly Scherbo's performance there is one of the best in all of Olympics history). We realized later our seats were not together, but honestly being there watching the U.S. women win gold and Kerri Strug stick that second vault is one of the highlights of at least my first 20 years. :-) The audience was completely electric - you could feel the crowd lift the Americans up; you can definitely hear it in the videos. Never seen anything like it. So even though that summer kinda made us scrimp/save the rest of the year, it was worth it. And ps - now Kerri Strug lives in DC and so do I; I saw her outside an Ann Taylor Loft store one day, talking on the phone (a friend of mine is in Junior League with her) - wanted to say something, but didn't want to be a pest. She remains quite a small person.

EllyHigginbottom

@skhayden "She remains quite a small person." Ha!

OhMarie

@skhayden This is aaaammmmazing! My city was in the running for 2012 but lost out in the first US round. I would be freaking out right now.

annejumps@twitter

@skhayden I was 17 in 1996 in Atlanta. We went to a baseball game and out to rowing. I remember that Minute Maid Lemonade slush was being sold everrrrywhere.

Xanthophyllippa

@annejumps@twitter Rowing! I watch rowing as much as it's on. Three of my students have been on the men's Olympic team. (So far!)

mlle.gateau

I'll say this for Nicole, because I know she must surely be with me on this- I love the Olympics because it's basically the only time I get to watch Grand Prix dressage on the TV. It is the best.

Also, I will watch any fucking sport if it's the Olympics. I'm looking at you, handball! (Srsly, wtf is handball, I don't know, but I will watch it, all. fucking. night.)

This reminds me, I need to call my cable company and buy a month of cable so I can watch the Olympics.

Es
Es

@mlle.gateau I'm a bit anxious about the equestrian events TBH, especially the eventing. We've had *so much* rain and events are being cancelled left right and centre.

Susanna@twitter

@Es I am also worried, I tried to get tickets but failed, and no other events are happening, and I just want to watch some horses!
Also rain is forcast all week =/
Dressage and Showjumping should be ok though.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@mlle.gateau I tried in 2008 to introduce my roommates to the magic of dressage, but they weren't having it. Yay no roommates this year! Equestrian events 24/7!

Es
Es

@Susanna@twitter I was supposed to go to Badminton to watch for the first time since I was about 12 this year, then I thought about Gatcombe instead since Badders was cancelled... I haven't got tickets (went for the XC ones but no joy) but very much wanted to see it on TV.

OhMarie

@mlle.gateau Yes, I love watching crazy shit!! Handball, water polo, what is even happening with you. Hammer throw, why do we have you when there is already shot put, discus, and javelin? Triple jump????? That's like, long jump except you have to do a silly dance first.

Minx

I love the Olympics!

My favorite Olympic moments are:

1) Kerri Strug. It's been said many times already, but seriously. I was 7. I remember NOTHING else about those Olympics, including the rest of the U.S. gymnastic team, not even Shannon Miller who was from my home town. But I will never forget Kerri vaulting on a sprained ankle and sticking the landing. Magical.

2) Paul Hamm winning gold for the men's all-around in gymnastics at Athens 2004. I was watching his routines and was totally dismayed when his vault ended in a terrible stumble that almost landed him on the judges. I knew it was all over for Paul. Then my older brother walked through and goes, "What are you watching? Oh, Paul Hamm? Yeah, he wins the gold." (He had been reading the results of all the competitions before they actually aired in America. Apparently he had no concept of the spoiler alert.) I turned to him and said, "No! He can't! He just fell ON THE JUDGES! I mean, he stumbled about ten steps!" He said, "I know. He wins gold." I did not believe him. I thought he surely had Paul Hamm confused with someone else. But then I watched Paul perform the best rings routine I've ever seen. And he did indeed win gold. Incredible.

3) Pretty much all of Michael Phelps' swims in Beijing 2008, but especially the butterfly race when he won by one one-hundredth of a second. Honestly, it seemed to have only come down to luck, but I didn't care. Him winning all those golds was positively spectacular.

I can't wait to see the London Olympics. So many great moments just waiting to happen.

tootsky

I hope NBC shows as much as possible because I love watching All the Events (Archery! Trampolines!) and it seems every Olympics gets more moving montages and heartbreaking childhood stories - just show me the badminton, Costas!

OhMarie

@tootsky But Bob just can't resist telling about how the Indonesian mixed doubles badmiton team bravely fought back from a broken thumb.

karencarrot

I've always loved watching SO MANY events!! I especially liked gymnastics when I was young, natch... even though I couldn't do a cartwheel. I saw Kerri Strug stick that landing on one foot... I was 16 that year. We also loved watching diving... Greg Louganis totally killed it in 1988, remember? And swimming events are the best! I just wish that velodrome racing was on at a decent hour... always have to watch it on YouTube way later.

hoo:ha

I live in East London, so the Olympics are basically going to make my life hell for two weeks, as it will be nearly impossible for me to get from my flat to my studio... so there had BETTER be some tear-jerking moments of compensation.

Manatee

@hoo:ha I know it's really cool to hate the Olympics in London, but I've been to 4 Olympics and they are fucking awesome. It's like your city is throwing the best party ever. I bet you won't be all jaded by the end!

Xanthophyllippa

@hoo:ha Oh man, you go from Wimbledon to the Olympics? You poor thing. At least Southfields is on the opposite side of town?

Fiddle dee dee

I liked FloJo.

Maryaed

The dullness is not about the competition, it's about everything that surrounds it, the advertising and the constant banal chatter and the repetition of cliches about overcoming adversity and inspiration and achievement. And while I admire the enormous physical and mental work required to be an amazing athlete, the sheer money and obsession on physical achievements that don't, in the end, benefit other people very much except as entertainment kind of depresses me. We're inspired by them--inspired to what?

OK, you can say the same thing about opera and sculpture and the writing of sonnets if you want, but those things do not get the multi-billion-dollar attention of the world every few years.

mysterygirl

@Maryaed : I totally agree that it costs too much money and wreaks havoc on its host cities, but I guess that I'm the perfect target for those human-interest stories, because I love watching little segments about areas of the world that I don't know much about and hearing people's stories of adversity and triumph. Even though the Games obviously are competitive, there's also a nice international spirit attached to them that I find uplifting. I think that the Olympics actually have very little to do with celebrating physical achievements and are really just a platform to bring much of the world together to focus on something other than politics and conflict and to recognize our common humanity. I know they won't save the world or anything but I find the storylines compelling and worthwhile just the same.

Maryaed

@mysterygirl You think? I feel like it gets ever more nationalistic and the Americans are so rude and GO USA.

mysterygirl

@Maryaed : I think that the nationalistic aspect exists, sure, but rude people are also usually louder, so I think those voices are heard more. Maybe I'm idealistic but I feel like there are plenty of people who aren't like that.

rallisaurus

I'm super sad Ian Thorpe's comeback failed. During the 2000 Olympics I was crazy pro-USA, but Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband stole my heart! They way way way trump Michael Phelps and his crew. I will still cheer like mad for the US team, but my inner 14 year old will be seething. Gah! I just love the Olympics!

faience

@rallisaurus The 2000 Olympics were the first set I actually watched hardcore and it was the swimming that sucked me in. My roommate and I (We were both first year undergrads and I had just moved to Canada from the US) would tape 8 hours of coverage on a VHS tape overnight and then the next day fastforward through the commercials.

bleepbloopblopbloop

@rallisaurus Yessssss Thorpe and van den Hoogenband! Post-Kerri Strug I became jaded about all of the USA! USA! USA! hype, and I was fourteen and looking for any socially acceptable way to rebel and so I cheered for non-Americans in most events. But Thorpedo was so exciting! And then four years later I was eighteen and found his underwear ads and felt good about that. So yeah, swimming is always going to be my fave.

rallisaurus

@bleepbloopblopbloop OMG YESSS! I made a scrapbook with his underwear ads and stuff in it. Good times. 4 years later I just thought he was gay. (Still kinda do)

Beatrix Kiddo

I used to be a huge Olympics fan (especially gymnastics and track and field, which were my sports), but I can't even watch anymore, because last time the commentators sounded downright flippant while discussing the Chinese gymnasts who were taken away from their families to train and didn't even want to be athletes at all. And the fact that no matter what sport is on, American TV pretty much only shows the American athletes! The nationalism has turned me off to the whole thing.

muddgirl

@Beatrix Kiddo Yeah, I basically don't watch it on NBC anymore (or actually 4 years ago I DVR'd it and fast forwarded through all the silly stuff) - it's 90% flippant human interest stories (and the ones from the Beijing Olympics were just too much). The coverage on the NBC cable channels is much, much better. Plus, there's the internet now.

OhMarie

I am still a fan of the Norwegian Olympic Curling Team's Pants on Facebook.

Manatee

@OhMarie I've gotten Micheal Phelps Google alerts since Beijing.

tootsky

@OhMarie Me too! Love the Pants. Love curling.

fondue with cheddar

1984 is the first Olympics I remember (I was 10). Because I was never into sports, I remember the people more than the performances. I remember Mary Lou Retton clearly, with her beaming smile and zestful spirit that was much bigger than her tiny frame. I also remember Scott Hamilton from the Winter Olympics that same year because of his personality, but also because he always did a backflip for no reason other than to please the crowd.

Xanthophyllippa

@jen325 YES! Wait, are you me?! Because Scott Hamilton was my television bestie. I wanted to do a backflip on ice skates SO BAD.

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa I don't know how to ice skate, but if I did I definitely would have wanted to do one just like him! He was the best. I really wanted him to be my cool uncle.

Xanthophyllippa

@jen325 Yeah! I wanted to call him up and hang out, or something.

My GP looks a bit like Scott Hamilton, which is part of why I like him. I'm not usually appreciative of male doctors but this guy's an athlete, so he gets it when he says, "Stop running and biking until this heals" and I'm all, "uh, no, can't do that." I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out HE could do a backflip on skates.

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa That's great that you have a doc that gets you. Lucky you!

At 10 years old I was much too young to hang out with Scott Hamilton, but I would totally hang out with him now. Let's set that up.

Xanthophyllippa

@jen325 I wonder what would happen if we were just all, "Hey Mr. Hamilton, we've always thought you were awesome; maybe want to grab a beer when you're in town?" I mean, he can't get a restraining order if we're just issuing one invitation and not being all stalkery, right?

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa Right! We might have better luck if we invite his wife along, though.

redheaded&crazy

one of my favourite vancouver moments was maelle ricker's boardcross win. Part of what makes it for me is the incredibly enthusiastic/obnoxious announcer. Also Maelle Ricker is super adorable and has the best attitude.

redheaded&crazy

@redheaded&crazie "maelle ricker's gold medal dream has ... COME TRUUUUUUE!"

Hammitt

When the olympics appear I turn into a sentimental, flag waving blob of jingoism.

I just cried thinking about the olympics.

In my family it is a famous thing to bring up the time(s) my mother and I cried at a Snickers commercial that aired during the Atlanta olympics. And I don't mean 'cried the first time we saw it' or 'had a welling up this one time.' I mean it got me every fucking time. Real, honest to god tears.

I was just in London for a month, and every time I saw their god-awful-ugly symbol or weird-sperm-mascots I teared up. Say the word "London" to me now and I'll probably start singing the Star Spangled Banner. And then cry. And then hug anyone near me and tell them I love America.

I swear to god, the rest of the time, I am a totally normal rational person who is skeptical of dangerous levels of attachment to the nation-state. Except the World Cup. God help me during the World Cup.

Four Horsemeals of the Eggporkalypse

@Hammitt ARE YOU ME?! I tried to watch the swimming trials on TV but I couldn't get through it because every commercial was an Olympic commercial, and they ALL MAKE ME CRY. I am so shameless about bald eagles wrapped in stars and stripes crying a single tear during the Olympics.

(Also: World Cup. World Cuuuuuuuup. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.)

Manatee

Bc I am a huge dork, I've read 2 gynmastics memoirs in prepration for the Olympics. I've read Dominique Moceanu's and one by a former National Champion named Jennifer Something or Another. I can't enjoy gymnastics anymore. It's so fucking depressing. It's a crazy abusive sport. The Karolyi's spearhead this insitutional abuse. According to Dominque Moceanu, the only reason Bela carried Kerri Strugg to the podium in 1996 is so he could step on the Olympic podium. It's common for coaches to slap their atheletes. Don't forget how young these girls are! Now when I look at Mary Lou, I wonder what kind of abuse she suffered at the hands of the Karolyis to get her medals. Also, why does Marta Karolyi determine who makes the national team behind closed doors? There is so much weird poltical ish that goes on in the sport.

Xanthophyllippa

@Manatee Have you ever watched "Make It Or Break It", ABC Family's show about gymnastics? It's pretty hilariously bad, but uses a lot of the political stuff as storylines.

Even better, though, is "Stick It," which I love, love, love and consider a contender for best movie I've ever seen. It's hilariously good, and I love it for the way the athletes subvert the system.

Bebe

Not be Negative Nelly, but I have really just never cared about the Olympics. I don't actively hate them (except sometimes I really want to smack Bob Costas for absolutely no rational reason) but I make zero effort to follow them and only ever watch if I am with other people who want to watch something. HOWEVER- I always, always seem to be watching during "the moment.". And I cry. Every time.

It's always the back stories that get me. Like that ice skater in Vancouver who had to compete like the day after her mom died, or the one guy in Barcelona (?) who pulled a muscle and couldn't finish his race, so his dad went down to the track, helped him up, and they finished the race together. Sobbing.

Now that I think about it, maybe I hate Bob Costas because he is the one telling the story that is making me cry....

Xanthophyllippa

@Bebe No, you hate Bob Costas because you're a rational person and he's a little troll. I saw him on Jon Stewart one night and was stunned that he is neither 3' tall nor completely neckless. I was expecting, like, an ambulatory bust to come bouncing out from back stage, and it turns out he's got an actual body. Who knew?

Verity

@Bebe Wrong sporting event, but the tear-inducing backstories reminded me of this incident from the London Marathon:

"At that event we applauded a runner whose heartbreaking T-shirt revealed he was competing in memory of a recently deceased young wife. Yards from the finish his toddler son was handed to him from the crowd and placed on his shoulders, clearly a plan so they could finish together. It was too much. The man collapsed, and was utterly distraught. Quickly, the muscle-bound cop picked up the child, put him on his shoulders, lifted the man to his feet and helped him limp over the finish line. Unforgettable." http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/20/london-marathon-supporters-extra-mile

Bebe

@Verity OMG the marathon. I can't even watch 5 minutes of the NYC marathon because there is always someone in a wheelchair who is in it and is bad ass, or someone running for a deceased or injured loved one, and I WEEP. My mom sent me a link to a story about a high school track star who stopped running and helped a girl on the other team finish the race after she (the girl on the other team) hurt something and fell down. Runners, WHY DO YOU WANT ME TO CRY?????

Bebe

@Xanthophyllippa I actually heard from a friend who used to work at NBC that he's a very nice person. She only saw him enough to say hello in the elevator and whatnot, but he was always vey friendly to everyone and his own staff likes him a lot. And yet, UGH. He is so smug!!!

Xanthophyllippa

@Bebe Interesting! I'm always happy to hear when I'm wrong about someone being a dick, so cool. Maybe he just has a completely different on-screen persona.

Katie Adams@twitter

I'm going to need to see this term paper...

Xanthophyllippa

@Katie Adams@twitter ME TOO.

Xanthophyllippa

Kitty and Peter Carruthers! Scott Hamilton and Robin Cousins! Greg Louganis! Mary Ellen Clark! Any time anyone from Canada, Czech Republic, or Slovakia wins a medal! Countries competing in climatologically improbable events! Small countries no one's ever heard of winning a medal! EXCLAMATION POINT!

My wish for the Olympics is that they wouldn't show diving at ridiculously unwatchable hours. C'mon, networks, it's got everything gymnastics has - danger! beauty! contortionism! - but with post-pubescent bodies in tiny swimsuits.

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa Oh, hell yes. Small countries no one's ever heard of winning a medal is THE BEST.

Xanthophyllippa

@jen325 YES. Also countries that have never won a medal before.

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa Definitely! I can't even imagine how exciting that must be.

Actually, wait...I can. I was in high school marching band when we beat another band in a competition for the first time. Not the first time during my high school career, but the first time EVER. We were terrible. WOO NOT LAST PLACE!

Xanthophyllippa

@jen325 Oh man. My high school volleyball team lost so many consecutive matches that when they finally won one (after I graduated), it made the front page of the sports section under a headline like, "[My Town] Finally Wins Volleyball Match."

(Also, "WOO NOT LAST PLACE!" is how I feel at the end of very 5K I run.)

fondue with cheddar

@Xanthophyllippa Haha, that's a great headline.

My band had lots of first-place trophies, but they were from competitions where we were the only ones competing in our group. So they looked impressive but we knew better. That 4th place trophy was so much better than all the firsts!

martinipie

I LOVE THE OLYMPICS I LOVE IT SO MUH-HUH-HUCH. that is all.

except my mom and I are seeing DRESSAGE, so...yes! that too!

Kirsten Hey@facebook

I think people tend to remember their own countries' victories the most. I offer you Daley Thompson's Decathlon golds in both 1980 and 1984. Think about what that means - he was Olympic standard at ten different disciplines at two different Olympics! And of course, Torvill & Dean and their perfect sixes.

More recently, I'll never forget Usain Bolt winning the 100m with yards to spare, and so confident he slowed down towards the end.

Caprica Six

So i moved around a lot when I was younger, and the first games that I really paid attention to, on my own recognizance was the 2004 Athens games. I was 15, and Carly Patterson's gold medal marks my descension into gymfan. The gym-ternet and I have been best friends ever since. But Michelle Kwan is my hero, forever and ever.

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