I’m a sucker for the Olympics. I always have been. A slow motion montage and some soppy music, and I’m a mess. The sight of Bob Costas alone inspires me to tears.
I mean, I haven’t watched any Olympic golf because, well, it’s golf. But still. If the gold medal round came down to a critical putt or two, I could get into it. (Update: I've been informed the gold medal round did indeed involve just that scenario and that I missed out. Alas! Karma!)
As I type, Olympic badminton is on my TV. Denmark versus China. I can’t tell if it looks like the players are giants on a tennis court or Lilliputians on a ping-pong table, and the shuttlecock—incredibly—goes from 100 to 0 in a matter of nanoseconds. And even though, as I watch, I am struck with the futile sensation of trying to throw a tissue across a room, I can’t help but be moved. One of the girls started playing badminton at a family reunion, probably a couple of hours into it, right when the potato salad started to get a little too warm to instill any great confidence.
It is match point for Denmark. Actually, five match points. The Danes hit it into the net. Then they serve, and the Chinese team lets it hit the court, and the point goes to the Danes, but the Chinese challenge it. Ruling on the court: out. Point China. The Danish team makes another unforced error. And another.
“We might be witnessing one of the biggest meltdowns in women’s doubles badminton history!” the commentator screeches.
I feel a tear welling up in the corner of my left eye. “No! Pull yourselves together!” I wail. And then I wonder, “Wait… women’s doubles badminton has a long and storied history?”
For the record, the Danes held on to win.
I may not know much about the sport, but I do know this: if I ever won gold in badminton, I would refer to “Simone” and “Michael” with chummy familiarity from that point on and have zero qualms about my right to do so.
Alas, despite many hours of family reunions, I am not an Olympic badmintoner, nor am I an Olympic anything. Thus, my siblings and I make Olympic viewing rules. For instance, when we’re lounging around the family room watching the Olympics, we have to get off the couch according to the predetermined sport. During the winter Olympics, we throw our arms back and strain our necks forward ski jumper style—and in this way proceed headfirst into the kitchen. During the summer Olympics, we prefer the manner of swimmers off the starting blocks. It is also from the couch that we lavish profuse judgments, our critiques limited only by the Doritos we shovel into our mouths.
“Ooo! A balance check!” we cry in disappointment, adopting the lingo of the commentators. “That’s gonna be at least a tenth of a point deduction.”
And then UP! Head down. Body still. Hands on the edge of the couch. A moment of silence. And we explode off the cushion and into the kitchen for more chips.
Of course, we make our comments in jest. I think it’s a coping mechanism to deal with the tension of watching the dreams of so many athletes hang in the balance of a 4-inch beam or the fleeting seconds of a 100-meter sprint. It’s also a way to deflect the overwhelming sense of inadequacy that inevitably casts its pall of realism over us mere mortals.
Before the Olympics: “Hi! I’m Amy! I like to run marathons. I’m confident and strong. I love life!”
After the Olympics: “Hi. I’m Amy. I crumble under pressure. I have no flexibility. And while that 19-year-old was breaking her own world record, I bought $75 worth of binders and page dividers at Office Max.”
But enough self-pity. I have a question.
Why is Ryan Seacrest at the Olympics? Are we supposed to be voting for our favorite athletes to stay in the Games?
“And now,” says Bob Costas from his suspiciously isolated studio, which I would not be shocked to discover is just a green screen in his basement, “let’s check in with Ryan Seacrest on Copacabana Beach!”
The broadcast switches over to an always dapper Seacrest surrounded by adoring fans.
“Thanks, Bob!” he says, with his own world record smile. “Folks, if you think Kerri Walsh-Jennings and April Ross should win the gold medal, don’t forget to call in your vote! They can’t win without your help, America! To send Walsh-Jennings and Ross to the final, call 1-855-MEDAL-16. That’s 1-855-MEDAL-16!”
Still, I love it. All of it. I can’t help myself. I’m inspired by the Olympics. Last weekend, all that inspiration prompted me to turn a 16-mile easy long run into an 18-mile long run with 8 miles of tempo work built in.
Actually, I should clarify: that inspiration prompted me to attempt an 18-mile long run with 8 miles of tempo work built in.
As it turned out, that easy long run was supposed to be easy for a reason. Suffice it to say, inspiration and execution are two very different things.
I have yet to run today. On the books: 12 miles with 5 at tempo pace. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling confident about this workout. That is, until I watched the Danes fight off the biggest meltdown in women’s doubles badminton history.
“If they can do it,” I say to myself, “I can do it!”
...in an hour or two. (I just ate an entire bag of chips.)
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.