America and the Olympics, remembered

By Leila Sales

You know what’s so amazing? The Olympics. Consider: The Olympics offers drama, intrigue, passion, desperation, and half-naked men crying at the sound of the national anthem. The only things that could possibly improve the Olympics would be a couple fuzzy kittens. But this is true of pretty much every major political or cultural event, so the absence of kittens hardly even counts as a detriment.

Yes, the summer Olympics ended five months ago, but don’t even pretend like anything more important has happened in your life since then. Did America kick ass or what? There’s nothing quite like going into that arena feeling all small and underdog-like, dwarfed by those over-funded superpowers like Switzerland and Uganda, and then beating them. Ha! You think the U.S. isn’t a major player on the world scene, New Zealand? Just you wait until you see our shot-putters! Yeah, who’s cowering now?

Granted, sometimes China and Russia make vague threats toward our total dominance, but that’s only because their athletes get massacred or something if they’re not up to snuff. And, anyway: Communism. It’s not like they play fair over there.

But us! We play fair. We have God on our side, as some of the American runners will never shut up about. And we have Inspirational Stories about Overcoming Obstacles. Like how Misty May and Kerri Walsh (not even their porn star pseudonyms, that’s how great America is!) overcame their obstacles of being born statuesque, tan, and able to roll around on the beach in tiny bikinis without those bikinis falling off. They overcame those obstacles to become the women’s beach volleyball champions! If they can do that, ordinary citizens like you and me can do anything.

Of course, for inspirational bio-pics from Athens 2004, you can’t beat the Amanda Beard story, as sensitively portrayed by NBC. Amanda’s story is that she used to be a cute little girl swimmer who carried her lucky teddy bear to the starting block, but now she has overcome that obstacle to become a total whore. NBC chronicled this transition by shooting hours of footage of Amanda lounging around in an inner tube, looking easy.

You see? Our swimmers don’t even have to swim, that’s how hardcore American athletics is. They can just float in pools, and they get gold medals tossed to them! Or so goes the story according to South Korean gymnastics officials, who are way bitter that Yang Tae Young lost to our homeboy Paul Hamm. You got to cut young Paul some slack, though. I mean, he has a voice like he just ingested a gallon of helium, he’s from rural Wisconsin (ick), and he recently had to film an ABC special in which he took a fat suburban family and made them less fat. I know we all want to star in ABC specials, but I feel like the plotline of this one was painfully thin, even for network television. Dude has suffered. We can all agree that he deserves this medal.

At least NBC’s commentators are on Paul’s side. Seriously, objective reporting has got nothing on NBC sports. Having been an avid Olympics-watcher since the time when all my peers were playing youth soccer and collecting pogs, I think I can provide accurate character sketches of the three gymnastics commentators.

There’s Tim Daggett, a gymnastics superstar from 20 years ago who never quite got over his childhood success. A good 20 percent of his comments still begin with the phrase, “Al, I personally completed this move back in ’84, and let me tell you…”

He is speaking, of course, to Al Trautwig, a man whose grown-up non-helium voice accurately implies that he has never done a cartwheel in his life. Al’s sole piece of knowledge about gymnastics is that you shouldn’t step out of bounds. And he will never let us forget that he knows this. “Wow, Tim!” he will say. “Did you see that flip? What’s that called, again? That was really high. I bet she trained for years before she was able to do that. I wonder if she’s scared? I’d be scared, I think. She better not step out of bounds!”

Then there’s Elfie Schlegel, who contributes a “normal” aspect to NBC’s Pyramid Of Power. Unfortunately, she never gets to a complete a sentence without Al interrupting, fearful that she’ll fail to mention the “stay in bounds” rule. “If Svetlana Khorkina could only keep her legs together during this release—” Elfie says.

“And stay in bounds!” Al adds helpfully.

You know what’s an Olympic event I would love to see? Elfie and Al wrestling. To the death! Now that would be inspirational.