Renewing my Olympic interest

I’ve often viewed the Olympics with apathy. Depending on my mood, I’ve seen them as anything from jingoistic patriotism to a complete bore. There’s no reason for it. It’s just how I’ve done things, my mood dictating the worthiness of an entire World’s grand showcase. I’ve simply never really cared. At least, not since Magic and Michael suited up for the United States and beat the crap out of everyone else in basketball.

Beijing 2008So it’s with quite a surprise that I find myself caring this year.

Me. Mister Olympic Apathy. Why?

Maybe it’s the politics of the event. China is at odds with freedom of speech and journalistic integrity, which makes coverage from the event seem both inspired and covert, as if simply reporting the United States’ loss to Norway (already happened) was a matter of life and death. Tones seem more hushed, sentences carefully constructed. Research is mired in red-tape, and only the most cheery or most dire situations are reported. It’s either fantastic or apocalyptic.

And it seems like everything is ripe for an explosion of ill-will, the detonators set for craziness, that everyone will simultaneously snap and the months of preparation and training and readiness will be put to good use quelling riots and stopping nation-wide uprising, fighting through smog like a low-lying English fog, cutting through it with their bayonets and stumbling over the innocent.

At least, that’s how it sounds sometimes. There’s a lot of crap going on over there, and the best athletes in the world are now sitting in the stew. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it could all simply be overplayed media hype.

Maybe it’s the symbolism of the Olympic Games. We’re not watching person versus person – we’re watching nation versus nation, like a giant game of Risk without the problem of rolling the dice. And we’re learning, too. I couldn’t tell you where some of these countries are, but I’ll know (theoretically) by the end of the Games.

I’ll also know that North Korea and South Korea are at odds again, separating their names for the first time in the past three Olympics. I’ll know that most groups still see the United States as brash outsiders pushing their way through the fray, and our athletes will probably prove everyone correct.

I’ll know that it can be inspirational to see the one member of an Olympic team – the sole Kyrgyzstan representative, for example – walk through the opening ceremonies alone, with an entire nation standing behind him, rooting for him, a local celebrity, to be raised above the heads of his brothers and sisters even if he doesn’t bring home a medal.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m more familiar with the concept – and with the importance – of the Olympics. I recognize some of the athletes; can root for our country without feeling too overtly patriotic, cheering for some random sprinter just like I cheer for a random Skyforce player. Cheering for the uniform. Cheering for the team.

There’s a lot going on out there in China. A country is struggling to be recognized as fruitful, despite a political landscape riddled with scars. Thousands of athletes are fighting for 300 medals, for their countries, for their sports – for immortality, the chance to add “Olympic Medalist” to their resume, tagged onto their name for the rest of their lives.

An entire population is looking to the Bird’s Nest, hoping that the opening ceremony will symbolize everything that’s changing in China. That becoming a modern country is still plausible in today’s world. That change can happen.

At 8:08 p.m. on 8/08/08, 7:08 a.m. our time, the games will begin with a rising opening ceremony.

And contrary to everything I’ve thought about the Olympics before, I’ll be paying attention.

I’ll be watching. Finally.

This was lovingly handwritten on August 7th, 2008