Would you be happy in the Olympics?

BERKELEY, Calif. (U-WIRE) — I was watching some commercials the other day, and the Olympics came on. Much to everyone’s delight, the event was gymnastics. The athletes who compete in the Olympics are hailed as the “greatest athletes in the world.” If you ask me, some of the things that these athletes can do are absolutely amazing. I can do nothing but gape.
Sometimes I think to myself, “I want to be in the Olympics.” But then I think a little longer, and I start wondering about the training 25 hours a day, the iron will, the grit and determination that is involved, and I start realizing the sacrifices that the athletes must have made. Just think — Ryan Sim, gold medalist in trampoline. All pipe dreams, I know — my trampolining just isn’t good enough.
To justify my laziness and lack of determination, I ask myself something, “Would I rather be exceptional or well-rounded?” If this is what being exceptional is about, I would much rather be mediocre.
Women’s gymnastics should be called “underweight, hormonally repressed body hurling on very dangerous equipment,” or maybe just “rib-counting.” The balance beam is four inches wide; I wouldn’t even be able to run across that thing. If anyone can do it, then a prepubescent girl who has endured hundreds of hours of yelling and had her growth plates pounded can definitely do it. Amazingly enough, one of them actually had breasts.
What’s great is that eight billion people are watching, some of who are depending on a 15-year-old to represent their country. If that isn’t stressful enough for a teenager to handle, then toss in a few announcers and “analysts” yapping about how “costly” a mistake is. I say leave the girl alone. The whole damn thing is one big, over-hyped soap opera anyway, unless you’re talking about rhythmic gymnastics.
The Olympics are not just about physical feats, though; they are about mental toughness, as well. You can be the best athlete in the world, but you have to be the best athlete in the world on that day, on that field, in front of billions. I think that is what makes being an Olympic athlete so special — the hype.
I’ve only seen her in commercials, but all I hear is Marion Jones this and Marion Jones that. I was talking with a friend on the phone before the women’s 100-meter dash. My other line beeped, so I clicked over to answer it. By the time I hit the flash button again, the race was over … in a flash. Four years, if not a lifetime, of hype and hard work for a measly 10 seconds. If she happened to be not feeling well or slipped off the starting block, the whole thing would have been shot to hell.
Michael Johnson is the perfect athlete to represent the United States. He is the embodiment of our country: everything that is good and everything that, I think, is bad. He is a great athlete, he runs really fast and it looks like someone actually took a chisel to his body, but he is arrogant, cocky and gaudy. He is the greatest 400-meter runner of all time, and he wears gold shoes and a gold chain (no cross or lucky charm, just gold). From my seat of mediocrity, I don’t think being the best athlete gives anyone the right to be the best asshole. It’s no wonder why the rest of the world wants to kick our heads in. I hope they do. Props to Mozambique, Latvia, Equatorial Guinea, the other countries against which the U.S. has sanctions and any country not in the General Assembly.
Even if you are the best athlete in the world, how much do you really accomplish? Most American athletes train for 12 hours a day. During those hours, they are on state-of-the-art equipment, in the best gym and eating regimented diets that contain the perfect balance of nutrition. Even if they’re not on the most advanced equipment, American athletes at least have food to eat, no war in their country and clean water to drink. If you ask me, the weightlifter from Qatar who won the bronze medal deserves as much praise and hype as Michael Johnson or Marion Jones, if not more.
If one Olympic athlete has lived up to the hype and exceeded it, and did it with humility, then it is without a doubt Cathy Freeman. She is an Aborigine who is truly representing her people. She lit the flame for these Olympic Games and the Australian people call her “our Cathy.” Will she make it onto a Wheaties box? Probably not, because A) she isn’t American and B) she doesn’t have a “marketable” look.
Whenever it’s time for the Olympics, there seems to be a clearance sale on superlatives — the best this, the best that, the worst mistake, the best performance, the strongest will. If you are going to watch the Olympics on television, have some respect for the athletes and press the mute button. (This technique applies to all sportscasters except Dennis Miller and Chick Hearn.) And if you want to watch a truly global sporting event, turn on the World Cup.
Many athletes are competing for themselves, as they should, but why are so many people watching them? Are the Olympics broadcast across the globe and out through space to spread peace and love? Hell, no! The Olympics are on TV to make money. To the television executives, the airtime that some man from Equatorial Guinea is getting is just dead space to fill time between commercials. I can’t sit through five minutes of Olympic coverage without seeing somebody’s logo or a sappy commercial for investment banking that has nothing to do with investment banking. Just think about it. It isn’t an honor for Australia to host the Olympics; it’s a great opportunity for the country’s economy and their tourists’ bureau. Like the lyrics say, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”
In the end, it really doesn’t matter. I don’t have any gold medals, but I had a doughnut the other day, and I got to have it with some friends.

Ryan Sim’s column originally appeared in the University of California-Berkeley’s Daily Californian on Sept. 27. Send comments to [email protected]