the olympics bring me joy

I started writing this post during the Olympics, but since I blog about twice a decade now, of course I didn’t finish it in time, thus it is now also about other things I’ve been watching because it’s already fucking August. Anyway, it’s mostly about the Olympics and therefore #onbrand for this blog that barely exists, but it’s also just about other stuff.

Even though I hated participating sports my entire life, even though I was never really quite on top of who was playing in the World Series or Super Bowl, I’ve always been super into the Olympics. Summer more than winter, of course, and I can’t imagine any non-athlete disagreeing with that, but really, I get excited about them both. I remember at the 2004 Games in Athens, watching the Opening Ceremonies, I got this idea that perhaps I would want a career in the IOC. This makes no sense, aside from the fact that I was going through a phase at that point where I really loved the idea of an international career in the UN or similar, because it seemed very glamorous. I had absolutely no idea what exactly I would do in the IOC, but that’s beside the point, because I also didn’t know what exactly I would be qualified to do in the UN, because teenagers don’t really understand what jobs look like.

My favorite thing at the Opening Ceremony was the dancing pictograms–absolutely brilliant–just enough whimsy without being cutesy or mOdErN dAnCe floofy.

Anyway, while I am not a sentimental person and don’t really like having feelings that people can see in public, I find the Olympics weirdly wholesome and heartwarming, and when I turn off the part of my brain that knows Games absolutely decimate host cities and are awful for the environment and the economy, I like that it’s one of those things that is mainly positive. It’s kind of like Instagram, where yes, if you’re a celebrity, you probably get a lot of nasty comments, but for regular people, it’s a very Whitman-certified celebrate thyself kind of place—you ate a yummy sandwich? Happy for you! New puppy? Great! You did a handstand? Rock on! Read a good book? Sweet! Literally everything is worth being excited about. And the Olympics feels that way as well, at least from my position as a spectator with absolutely no stakes in the event.

I have precisely zero desire to know whether it is very ugly when you’re there in the dirt, because what I see from where I’m sitting is a bunch of super talented people who, yes, are competing against each other for glory for their country (which is gross on the basis of nationalism), but consistently high five and hug (though !!!! pandemic!!!) their competitors at the end of a race. My guess is it’s such an exciting achievement to be there, not to mention such a unique and exclusive experience, it feels like you’re part of a team made up of everyone there, not just Amurica rah rah, but what do I know. I’ll pass on any of that nonsense, so I don’t want to know.

Perhaps my enjoyment is based in how the fandom is inter, not intra? When you’re in your own country, you have ugly fan rivalries between this state and that state, this college and that college. In the Olympics, you’re all cheering for the same team. Again, my politics say this is gross because the nation of my birth, the glorious USA, is garbage in a million ways, but my personal enjoyment is what counts here, so stay with me.

I did not grow up with cable TV (we upgraded to a TV with a remote control in the middle of the ’98 Nagano Games—I remember this specifically because Olympics—so my childhood was a bunch of bunny ears and dials and a cart the TV lived on that was often in a closet), so it’s not like I could watch all events all day. Then when I became an adult in the late ‘00s, I didn’t own a TV, so my TV was my computer, and streaming without buffering delays, to say nothing of live events syndicated online, and were but a glint in the eye of tech bros.

So I don’t know if it’s ongoing pandemic malaise, grad school fatigue, chronic anxiety, and fibromyalgia that are making me respond positively to literally anything that seems a bit optimistic, or if it’s just because I’m a TV head who now lives alone, works from home, and gets free cable at her new house, but I have been watching TONS of events and far more sports than I would usually see.

What’s more, I’m far more tuned in than I’ve been in the past. When I was a kid being forced to try sports, it was just because that’s what you do, or maybe because my mom just wanted me to be healthy, or maybe because it’s a healthy, prosocial activity that helps you develop as a youth, who knows? What it wasn’t about was, like, discipline or getting to know your body or learning the nuance of the sport. I suppose that’s because I wasn’t being pushed into serious teams, but whatever. It’s a shame, but it’s in the past, and I can’t exactly go back and pinpoint how much of it was not being pushed to be disciplined and how much was me resisting that.

It’s amazing how much more compelling and engaging watching the Olympics is now that I’ve had so much education in movement and biomechanics.

As a Pilates teacher, those 500 hours of training (the longest certification in the fitness industry!) felt wholly insufficient for doing my job–they are the tip of the iceberg, and I am bad at remembering details and scientific names of bones and muscles, even if I know what they are and what they’re doing, and also imposter syndrome is real, so I will never feel good enough. As a Pilates student, however, that 500 hours of training was incredible, and possibly the best thing about the experience was learning how to visualize my own movement and feel movements inside my body while watching them on other people. That is not at all to say I understand how to perform Olympic sports, but it does mean watching the athletes and listening to the commentary is so much richer now because I can follow the action better. I can better appreciate the work that goes into performing a dive or a jump or a vault rather than just being awed by it. I guess it’s like learning the magician’s trick, but to me it makes it more magical to understand how it happens, not less.

Last summer, while I was feeling miserable and completely out of sorts biomechanically and proprioceptively, I started watching American Ninja Warrior and am wholly obsessed now (though this season sucks). I watched it obsessively and made it through all the back seasons very quickly, and I think it was a sort of aspirational activity because I wanted my own strength and fitness back, and it was also soothing because it gave me the opportunity to do that visualizing movement when I couldn’t actually feel any movement or sense of space in my own body. This summer I’m finally moving again, but I still haven’t taught a spin class in 18 months and may never again, and I’m a far cry from what I once was. My shorts and pants still don’t fit, my muscles are fired up by physical therapy standards but certainly not by fitness standards, and while I’ve moved on from perpetual pain to pain roughly two days a week, that’s still two days more than normal humans have. So watching the Olympics last month brought me similar feelings of wistful relief–wistful because I feel like I still can’t do anything, and relief because I was able to engage in athletic activity mentally. It feels icky to admit to feeling any sort of joy in anything in this hellscape or in this personality of mine, but there you go.

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