A New Word is Needed
Ah, the Olympics. That wonderful time of the year where it is ok to leave the TV on all day, just there in the background like the cars outside or the clouds blowing across the sky. Now it is swimming. Now it is archery. Now it is table tennis. Now a nap. When I wake up, it is volleyball. I clean the house, do some laundry. Now it is diving. What a glorious waste of time!
I hate the commercialism of the Olympics. (I do not care what they say I do not believe any athlete eats at Mc Donalds, or Subway.) I hate how at the end of the race, instead of interviewing the swimmer who won the gold, they only interview the American who came in third. Yes I am from the USA, but I would rather hear what the guy who actually won the race has to say. Still I love the spirit of the Olympics. I love the idea of a place where the best athletes from all over the world compete together. I love the superhuman effort involved in winning a gold medal. I love the drama of athletes achieving their dreams. I love it when some woman from some tiny country in the middle of nowhere gets her fifteen minutes of fame.
I hate what they did to Jordyn Wieber. This woman is a phenomenal gymnast, a world champion, an amazing athlete. She made the Olympic team in a sport where only five girls in the country do so, came in third place in the preliminaries out of hundreds of competitors. She will most likely be on the gold medal podium Tuesday with her teammates. Yes her not making the all around final is a disappointment to her, an emotional blow to her. But if you listen to the media you would think she somehow let down the entire country. I wanted to strangle every reporter who had the nerve to talk of her Olympic experience as a "failure." Only in the US is being one of only 3 gymnasts to score as high as she did a "failure." Why? Because all we care about is that we picked the wrong horse. How fucked up is USA gymnastics that the girl who made the finals
in Jordyn's place also ended the night in tears? The Olympics is all about surprise successes. But rather than celebrate Ali Raisman's performance, all anyone wanted to talk about was Jordyn's collapse.
As far as I am concerned Jordyn Wieber is still a champion. She is a champion because she worked her ass off to make the Olympic team, competed against the best in the world, and did an amazing job. It makes me sad that we told a 17 year old girl it was ok to work her entire life for one moment that depended on a tiny step of her foot. It makes me sad that we only have one view of sports in this country, that it is all about who wins and that second place is nothing but the first loser. It makes me sad that when someone says the word "athlete" there is only one type of person we picture.
I know a lot of athletes and none of them are in the Olympics, in fact some of them don't even compete. I know a woman in her sixties who spars every Friday night and has been doing so for years. I know a hopelessly uncoordinated teenaged boy who if he keeps training will make black belt in the next couple of years. I know a 74 year old man who just had hip surgery and when asked how his physical therapy was going, replied "It is hard. It is hard because I push myself to go a little farther each time." Sounds like an Olympian to me.
Perhaps it is not that we have a warped view of sports, perhaps it is just that we need a new word. "Athlete"
invokes a Herculean image, a man with chiseled muscles and the speed of a cheetah. It takes a certain level of arrogance to call yourself an athlete. Michael Jordan is an athlete. Me, with my jiu-jitsu struggles and propensity to lounge on the couch for hours watching swimming, I am something else entirely.
Therefore, I offer this challenge up to all of you. While you are watching these superhuman feats on channel 4, think about someone you know who really pushes themselves to the limit. Think about how they overcome obstacles, leap over hurdles, accomplish miraculous feats of strength every day. Now give their effort a name, a new word, one that inspires the same sense of awe as ATHLETE.
I will work on getting us some sponsors. Perhaps Subway is looking for a new spokesperson.