Greetings, readers. This is Whitney Sorensen, sitting in for the Front Porch Friend. As the member of the clan who's been counting down to the Olympics all summer long, I'll be providing Olympic commentary for the next three weeks. With just four days to go, I can barely contain the excitement, so let's dive right in.
As an all-around sports entusiast in general, I love the Olympics more than any other sporting competition. Only once every four years can you find the world at large cheering for swimming, track and field, gymnastics, and even more obscure events. Badminton, judo, and table tennis (aka ping-pong) are all Olympic sports. I recommend water polo and rowing, two less popular sports that are both fascinating and exciting to watch. (Plus, rowing carries associations of New England prep schools and Ivy League universities that I find hard to resist.) And only once every four years do athletes have a chance to compete for the rarest of sports accolades: an Olympic medal.
There are two ways to cheer at the Olympics. You can root for a single athlete or team to have an astounding achievment by winning large numbers of medals, smashing a world record, or defending former Olympic and world titles. These athletes establish dynasties of greatness. You can be sure I'm cheering for Michael Phelps in each of his eight events. But as they say in sports, records are made to be broken. After the US men's basketball team was dethroned from its "Dream Team" status in Athens (lucking into a bronze rather than outscoring their way to a goal), critics blamed young players and other factors. But I choose to see it differently. That is only a positive side effect of the Olympics, spreading athletic achievement world-wide rather than confining the elite talent to one country. Look at baseball, that most American of all sports; the US team isn't even favored to medal.
Which leads me to the other way to cheer. Since the Olympics happen only once every four years, for the majority of the athletes participation, rather than prize-winning, is the true measure of achievement. What if Michael Phelps does not win his unprecedented eight golds (knock on wood), will he be less of an athlete, less of a person? In fact, he could easily be upset in two of his races by his American teammates Ian Crocker and Ryan Lochte, either of whom would be equally deserving. (Phelps himself is staying away from predictions, a refreshing attitude for a man who could emerge as the most decorated Olympian of all-time if he wins even three more golds. Not bad.) Take time to cheer for those who finish, those who fall, and those who fight to win even if they come up a hundredth of a second too short. Don't pay too much attention to the medal count. These are not even sanctioned by the IOC, and do not even partially reflect all the heart behind every event, every team, every athlete, every country.
But what's the best thing about the Olympics in the world according to Whitney? The fact that no one can truly predict the unexpected stories of the Olympic games. Four years ago, the Iraq soccer team played astonishingly well, surprising even themselves. That look of surprise greatness on the face of a perfectly-toned athlete is worth its weight in gold, silver, or bronze. The Olympic Games being as rare as they are, you just might find yourself believing that insurrmountable odds are beatable. That, too, is a rare feat.