Why I Love the Olympics

If you have been following my battle with the cable cord, you know there is one thing and one thing only that is the lynchpin with my cable TV attachment. I’ll give you a hint: it’s an international sporting event that takes place every two years and it’s not soccer.

I’ll be the first to admit, I have an Olympics problem. Like, I could tell you down to a five-minute window when Sasha Cohen would skate in the 2006 Free Program on Wednesday. I literally watch Procter & Gamble commercials on my laptop and start to cry. I am planning out which bar I can go to watch the Opening Ceremonies just so I can hear that Olympic fanfare this winter.

But why do I love the Olympics so much? It’s a bit hard to pinpoint one thing that makes them special to me, but I’ll try to break it down into pieces with the help of YouTube links.

Let’s get the easiest ones out of the way. The Olympics are a huge television event where NBC makes a ton of money off millions of eyeballs. As a result, NBC produces a lot of great promos aka “fluff” pieces. These are the little films before each Olympics broadcast  or each event that take the Olympic competition and make it super epic with music, great cinematography, and slo-mo. They are extremely well-produced and the best kind of sappy. To be honest, for a very long time, my dream job was to produce the Olympics fluff. (We’ll skip the part about how I actually went to film school with this dream in mind…)

The Olympics also bring a slew of really amazing commercials, brought to you from the likes of Home Depot, McDonald’s, Visa etc. They’re very memorable. Come on—I’m sure a large portion of the world only knows who Morgan Freeman is because of he says “Visa: Proud Sponsor of the Olympic Games” for eleven days straight every two and a half years. Additionally, these sponsors know how to produce commercials that celebrate the hurdles Olympians have to overcome and the people who are right there with them. One of my particular favorites this year is the commercial celebrating the addition of women’s ski-jumping. Seriously, guys, it’s set to a recording of Amelia Earhart talking about being the first woman to fly. It’s awesome.

Of course the moments that really stick with me in the games are the things that aren’t choreographed and produced. It’s pure athleticism and it’s great to see someone succeed in such a big way after hours upon hours of hard work. It’s those wow moments that, thanks to my old DVR, I could watch over and over again, saying to myself, “I can’t believe that just happened.”

Take for example, McKayla Maroney’s vault during the last summer Olympics. Yes, she fell on her butt in the individual finals of what was supposed to be her “best” event. But I am never going to forget watching her stick that insane vault in the team finals. This is a girl who had a broken toe and landed such a perfect vault that a judge literally exclaimed “Oh my god” on camera.  You just can’t recreate those moments, that rush everyone in that stadium and watching on television experienced.

Conversely, there are also moments we remember for being—for lack of a better world—bad. Like things went horribly wrong and you suddenly remember how much these athletes risk for their Olympic dreams.  The thing about Olympic athletes is that while some of them might be “professional” athletes, many of them can’t live off their Olympic dreams alone and are risking so much every day. Dana Vollmer has a deadly heart condition that could kill her while she’s swimming.  If you remember the 2012 Olympic Games, there was a lot of buzz around Sarah Robles, the US’s best shot for a weightlifting medal. Sarah lived off food stamps and could barely pay her rent, while athletes like Michael Phelps were rolling in endorsements. It was a shocking juxtaposition that reminded me how much these athletes have to give up. This isn’t the same as the NFL.

Fourteen years ago, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea named Eric Moussambani competed in the Olympic Games in the 100M Freestyle. It was a dramatic moment when he won his heat due to the disqualification of his opponents after they had two fault starts. He was soundly defeated in the following semi-finals because Eric’s fastest finish was still one minute slower the world record set at that same Olympic games. So what’s amazing about this? Well, everything. This guy almost didn’t finish his first race, but the crowd of 17,000 people cheered him to the finish. It’s an iconic Olympic moment and something that’s stuck with me for over a decade. (Ignore Moorhouse, the British commentator in the video, because he clearly doesn’t get it). In the same way, Sasha Cohen fell on her two opening jumps in her Long Program in 2006, blew her chances at a Gold Medal, but still got up and skated a final compelling and emotional performance.  Watching these athletes stand back up, and watching the world come together to support them, is as an incredible moment as any big win.

I don’t have a perfect answer as to why I love the Olympics—it’s just something about the way the multiple elements evoke an emotional human response for me. What can I say? They mean something to me. I mean I’ve already booked myself for February 14th, 2016 when Los Angeles will host the 2016 Olympic Trails for the marathon. I’m going to participate in an Olympic Trials weekend! That is so awesome.

“Yeah, I love the Olympics that much.”

Photo by Sara Slattery

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