One of the best movie lines ever is by Doug E. Doug, who played Sanka Coffie in the 1993 sports film classic “Cool Runnings.” I know it’s a movie about the Winter Olympics, but stay with me. Sanka, the comic relief on the Jamaican bob-sled team, walks through the snow and into a circle of athletes looking miserable from the cold and with a huge grin says the line, “I am feeling very Olympic today.”
Money. Without a doubt, that line holds more meaning than most people would ever care to notice. He expresses an emotion as being “Olympic” and in doing so tells everyone he is inspired, dedicated, willing, courageous, scared, etc. Granted, this analysis may be a little convoluted considering the line is actually just another comical moment in the movie, it helps to explain why the Olympics is so exciting. The line displays the complexity of emotions that naturally comes with the Olympics and sports in general.
To explain the importance of the Olympics would be pointless. Something of that magnitude cannot be captured in words, at least not fully. However, it is easy to explain the excitement around the Olympic Games. I mean, this is the only time people from Los Angeles., New York, Chicago and “Podunk,” Wisconsin root for the same team. It’s the only time everyone appreciates sports for what they are and what they mean to the people that dedicate entire lives to being the best at something.
It’s the only time I watch an equestrian final between America and France and jump out of my seat when that American horse jumps over a few poles. At no other time does inspiration happen so often and so quickly. The summer Olympics Games are, without a doubt in my body, the greatest time to be a fan.
No matter how athletic you are or how much you enjoy watching sports, there is no denying how much you want your country to win. No matter how little you may know about gymnastics, you watch the NBC opening montages and when that classic Olympic music hits, you willingly throw yourself head first into the hopes and dreams of Carry Strug.
It starts out as pride. Then hope and anticipation follow and as the conclusion starts to approach, anxiety hits so hard it is difficult to bare. There is an inherent complexity of emotions involved because as fans, we invest those emotions into these athletes. The people representing our country become people we believe in and put our faith into and the best part is that most of them are like us: normal everyday working people. And whether they win or loose, we still walk away with appreciation for how much they have dedicated themselves to chasing the ultimate dream.
With the acception of a few well-paid pro athletes (basketball, tennis, soccer, etc.), the Olympics are filled with athletes that everyday people can relate to. That aspect is a huge reason why everyone gets so excited about watching these athletes. We are not watching A-Rod striking out looking to end a game and then go out with Madonna the next night with his $125 million in the bank. We are watching everyday people attempting to achieve the highest goal an athlete can possibly shoot for: Olympic gold. If they lose, we watch them fail at something they train their whole lives for and that misery extends to us as fans.
The amazing aspect about us spectators is that it does not necessarily have to be an American athlete that we invest our emotions into. In the 2000 Sydney Games, I remember wanting Australian Cathy Freeman to win the women’s 400 meter over anybody, including the Americans. Why? Because as a fan, I wanted to see the first Aborigine to win an Olympic gold on her home turf and break a huge race barrier in Australia. It was the symbolism of her success that drew me into the story and thus captured me as a fan.
For me, one of the most powerful Olympic moments ever was also in the 2000 Sidney Games when an African athlete, Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea, went to the Olympics as a swimmer. There was one problem: he did not really know how to swim. He had learned to swim just a few months before arriving in Australia and had competed at 50 meters a few times prior to his first heat. The only reason he was swimming in Australia was simply because he wanted to say that he was an Olympian.
It was amazing. He was the only swimmer in the pool because the other two swimmers in his heat had been disqualified for false starts and as long as he finished the race, he was going to win the heat.
At first I felt bad for the poor guy because the way he flopped around in the pool made him look like a six-year-old learning how to swim. But as he made the turn and headed for Olympic glory, I felt myself pull for him and before I knew it I was deeply moved by his performance. He battled that 100 meters all by himself and came out the other side a true Olympian with a story for the ages. He swam the 100 meter length a minute slower than the fastest swimmers, but everyone watching knew he was a champion simply because of what he had achieved as an individual in the pool that day.
We can’t help. but love to see regular people do great things and the Olympics are a breeding ground for that.
This year the Beijing Olympics bring with it some political baggage that will only add to the emotions and excitement of the games. Due to its highly publicized pollution problems, the 2008 Beijing games will be a true test of heart as we may see some bodies break down and great athletes crumble. We may see that next tear-jerker of a performance from somebody that will have to go back to his or her day job after it is all said and done.
As a fan, I don’t really care how many gold medals the U.S. wins. I care more about the athletes who have gone beyond their limit to win the highest level of competition in the world and walk away with true, undeniable pride for their country. The games do not even start until August 8 and yet I cannot help, but feel very Olympic today.