For the past week, I’ve been suffering from what a clever friend calls “ODS”:
Olympic Drama Syndrome.
No, you won’t find it in your Physicians' Desk Reference—well, at least not yet. But this summer, it may just be the national ailment. After all, which of us has been immune to the tears and triumphs that we’ve watched unfold in the past week, all the while with “USA” ringing in our ears?
I’ve studied the trials, read the news reports, and soaked in the commercials that laud the brightest, the best, the toughest, and the talented. I’ve watched young women—not much older than my own little girl, really—swinging and balancing and soaring to incredible heights.
I’ve cheered as swimmers cut through chlorinated waters with the urgency of Flipper on a rescue mission. I’ve contemplated precision divers splitting the water with nary a splash—and in tandem with another diver. (Seriously, the magic that is synchronized diving boggles my mind. It took me years to synchronize getting us all to the dinner table at the same time.)
And I’ve participated in heated family discussions about the Olympic Games themselves. I went out on a limb earlier this week and let my sons know that I thought the games took a turn for the worse in 1992, the year the Dream Team dominated men’s basketball at the summer games in Barcelona.
Until that point, the U.S. had always sent amateurs. And I guess we did OK with that, taking the bronze in the 1988 Olympics.
But OK wasn’t good enough. When the International Basketball Federation changed the rules in 1989, it opened the doors to the participation of NBA players in the Olympics. Faced with a team led by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the other teams simply dropped the ball and asked for autographs.
It was more exciting, I contended, when the playing field was a bit more even.
Not so, my son argued. He believes that the Olympics should be what they were originally—a meeting of the best athletes the world has to offer. You want to compete against the best of the best, not just the best of those who aren’t being paid yet.
I guess he has a point. I certainly felt that way last week, when Jordyn Wieber was denied an opportunity to compete for the all-around in gymnastics. As everyone knows by now, Wieber’s qualifying score was higher than the scores of 21 of the 24 competitors for that particular piece of Olympic hardware.
Still, a wonky rule that only allows two competitors per country in the all-around competition kept Wieber—reigning world champion and certainly one of the “best of the best”—from participating.
Life was never meant to be fair. A lesson learned, albeit a tough one, especially for a teenager who had worked and dreamed of standing on the top of a podium, on top of the world.
But for the country that momentarily shared in Wieber’s pain, solace came in the megawatt smile of Gabby Douglas, the new all-around gold medalist, and in the first team gold since we were the home team in Atlanta. “USA!” still rang in my ears the next morning, as I forced myself out of bed and tried to synchronize the schedules of my kids.
Of course, social media has played a big part in the Olympics this year as well. My friends—ODS-infected, all of them—have been keeping running commentary on their reactions as the games progress.
One has even recorded a personal best for tears shed during a medal ceremony. Others tweet their opinions on the gymnasts’ choice of leotard (“Purple, really?” #wherestheredwhiteandblue) and Michael Phelps’ enormous feet (“Cats flee to escape being stepped on” #flippers).
And, of course, it’s become an Olympic trial in itself to avoid being spoiled on the results of events that took place earlier, but won’t be shown until right before midnight prime time in the US.
But hey, it’s worth it. Every four years (two if you’re a winter sports fan as well), we get a glimpse of the best the world has to offer, not in terms of electronic innovations or military warfare or strategic manipulation, but in hard work and sweat and dedication and hope. And, of course, talent.
For a minute, we are a part of their journey. And no matter where it ends, it’s worth losing sleep and shedding tears, just to be a part of it.