Look, I’m happy for Tom Daley. Did you hear that commentator? You know he’s got a poster of Daley on his bedroom wall and “Tom 2020” scrawled over his pencil box. It’s adorable how into that diving he was. He went very quiet when GB actually won the gold, though. I assume he was sobbing loudly with unabashed joy and needed to be muted. “Our boys WOOON!!! WAAA-“……
It’s sweet, if a little biased. But it’s not why I watch the Olympics.
The truth is, I’m not a sporty person. The only sport I can be said to regularly watch and actually get excited about is Mixed Martial Arts… by which I mean the UFC (and the annual spectacle that is Rizin). And the Olympics isn’t really the place for McGregor to have a wee temper tantrum on the floor of the octagon (or for Gabi Garcia to attempt to murder a little old lady).
My family is not into sports. My father has zero interest and my mother knows that cricket is a thing. But that’s mainly because she grew up in Pakistan with 6 brothers. My own brother is much like my father. So really, as the baby of the family, I had no chance. My first foray into sport was Tai Chi. And I don’t think that counts. We don’t have Tai Chi in the Olympics. I did go to the gym for fitness but never enjoyed sport. All my competitive spirit goes into academics or videogames. And I currently have zero competitive spirit. I no longer study and like to play couch co-ops. I am soft and safe. The MMA thing is my wonderful husbands much needed influence to get me to value failure and effort. Football (soccer) and American Football also play a tiny role but I am less receptive to either. Except of course for watching the Euro Finals, like much of the nation did.
But then along comes the Olympics every 4 years* and changes my world ever so slightly for four weeks. And I mean that sincerely. The little changes are what build to the big ones in life. And I have been quite cynical about the Olympics in the past. I feel like I have called it an international penis measuring contest. And that is crass and reductive, but I was quite anti-establishment and cool(citation needed) in my early 20s.
Sorry, I’m watching the women’s volleyball as I write this and considering becoming a volleyball person. It’s so cool. My husband agrees. We’re rooting for Argentina in their match against the Russian Olympic Committee. They’re the underdogs and I have decided I will support them. I am screaming and cheering and don’t know the rules and I love it.
Someone who knows a lot about volleyball might be horrified at my complete lack of understanding of what counts as an out. They’ll roll their eyes when the commentator explains something basic to what is meant to be a knowledgeable audience. But they don’t know that people like me exist. The ignorant who leech any amount of knowledge from the screen; who look at the numbers and hand signals and players to try and puzzle together what the point of each dang sport is. People who randomly scroll through the catalogue of sports and pick one because they’ve no idea how it functions. Horse dressage? What’s that? It’s glorious, that’s what. It’s mad and glorious and years of an athletes (and their horse Pumpkins) life compressed into 20 joyous minutes of mine. It’s got horses zigzagging across a sandpit as I giggle uncontrollably with my eyes glued to the screen (apologies to superfans).
Rugby Sevens? Fantastic. A game designed by the spirit of a 5-year-old who had the muscles of a 30-year-old and the nostalgia of a 50-year-old. So much better than its American counterpart. My throat was hoarse from screaming poorly thought out strategies at the TV. Also Canada trounced Japan, it was quite sad. I had rooted for Japan.
Hidilyn Diaz’s primal scream after lifting 127kg in women’s 55kg weightlifting to take the gold. Margielyn Didal’s braces-filled smile as she fell for the third time in a row in women’s skateboarding. The mesmerising goofiness that is horse dressage (again apologies to superfans). I know next to nothing about these sports but it’s such a joy to spend time with all these athletes who have been working towards this for years. What has been their entire lives for the last 5 years makes up a few weeks in my year and I feel like a nosy neighbour peeking over the fence with a stupid grin on my face. It’s a veritable buffet of obscure nuggets of human experience. I like learning the lingo and guessing the rules. I like being ignorant and feeling that ignorance lessen over a few weeks. I like the horse dancing sport!
It’s a mad thing the Olympics. We’re mad little beings.
Oh, and don’t think I’m not tuning into the rock climbing in August.
*Okay, 5 years this time round, but never mind all that. Future Who Wants to be a Millionaire questions will ask, “What year was the 2020 Olympics?” and younger eyebrows will scrunch together. But you’ll know. And I’ll know…
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