The torch has traveled around the world. Patriotism becomes in vogue. National team shirts, hats, and pins become fashionable. News stations begin reporting medal counts as if they were the DOW or NASDAQ.
Our Olympic obsession begins.
Certainly, the Olympics are one of the most amazing dramas we can witness. Here athletes gather from around the world to demonstrate an excellence which is frankly mindboggling. The obsession with which they train for years transfers to us… and we become obsessed, too. And there are so many fun things to obsess over with the Olympics.
We can obsess over the individual athlete’s story–a story of dedication, adversity, or redemption. We can obsess over a sport–seeing excellence in a sport we might play, being fascinated with the physical demands required, or even just being confused that something counts as a sport. We are invited to enter the drama. To allow our interest and curiosity to overcome us, inviting us into an obsession. It’s fun, it’s healthy, and there is nothing like it in the years between the lighting of the torch.
So to help you fully enjoy (and obsess over) the Olympics, here are a few recommendations from TJP contributors:
Something Astounding… Like Rhythmic Gymnastics
In 2008 I was in college living in a hallway full of my fraternity brothers. One afternoon, I sat down next to one to watch a baseball game. During a commercial break, he flipped the channel to the Olympics. There was this tiny gymnast holding a long ribbon attached to a baton. She moved gracefully, almost dancing, and then exploded with energy, both flipping her body entirely and spinning the ribbon. Immediately, my friend and I sat up, “How the heck did she do that?!”
Slowly, other members of our hall came in to join us in the common room. Almost always, they made some initial comment like: “What is this?” But after a few moments, they’d sit down amazed. Our group grew from two to nearly a dozen crammed into the small common room. We watched the entire division, the replays, the rebroadcast… and never once returned to baseball. We had found something better, stranger, and more astounding in rhythmic gymnastics.
Athletes for Whom Age Is Just a Number
Aly Raisman, the captain of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, is nicknamed “Grandma Aly.” At 22, she is considered “old” in the world of women’s gymnastics.
But then there’s Oksana Chusovitina. If Raisman is a “grandma,” then perhaps Chusovitina could be compared to Yoda. She is 41 and is competing in her seventh Olympics. That’s not a typo.
Chusovitina first won a gold medal in 1992. She won a silver medal in 2008 — her fifth Olympics. In 2015, as a 40-year-old, she ended the year ranked number one in the world in the vault. And she just finished seventh in the vault in Rio.
I love watching the dominance of teenagers like Simone Biles or Katie Ledecky, but the ability of an athlete like Chusovitina to compete at such a high level for decades is truly mind-blowing.
I’m not getting any younger, but Chusovitina gives me hope that excellence is possible at any age.
Handball: An Unlikely Choice
Do you like soccer but would rather throw the ball instead of kick it? This is essentially my understanding of handball. I was familiar with the name of the sport but had never actually watched it until I scrolled through the list of sports in the Rio Olympics. Intrigued, I scanned YouTube for some videos of the sport.
My first thought was that I wished I could have played this game in gym class growing up. Players move about doing everything they can to stop the other team from hurling the ball through the opposing net. While my inner goaltender cringes at the scoring, I love seeing the strategy involved in tossing the ball to find the perfect angle. I am tense as I watch, knowing at any second the score could change.
It may look goofy and silly at first, but isn’t that part of the fun?
Badmintoners: The Most Courageous of Olympic Athletes
Let’s be honest here. When we think of world-class athletic prowess at the Summer Olympics, we’re probably thinking of swimmers, runners, or decathletes. I, for one, am certainly not thinking about badminton.
The court isn’t that big. There isn’t much running involved. I’m not even convinced that one would work up a sweat while playing badminton. And yet, badminton is an Olympic sport.
I can’t help but wonder, don’t these Olympic badmintoners feel self-conscious next to their teammates who are playing more demanding (and popular) sports? They’ve traveled all the way to Rio to take a couple of steps back and forth on a small court, waving around these flimsy-looking racquets, playing a sport that receives next to no attention.
The answer seems to be no, they aren’t self-conscious. So what if their sport isn’t on TV? Who cares if they aren’t going to make a living playing this game professionally? Badminton can easily become an Olympic punchline, but these athletes demonstrate profound courage in committing themselves to something others don’t take seriously.
Rather than looking for the affirmation or esteem from those around them, badmintoners respond to the gifts that God gives them and give it their all.
So, from all of us here at TJP,
to all of you out there seeking a way to enter the Olympic drama,
we hope you find your obsession.
Cover image by Flickr user Republic of Korea can be found here.
Olympic rings image by Flickr user HereStanding can be found here.