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From a View to a Thrill: An Armchair Olympics Guide

Elizabeth. Queen Elizabeth.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

Every four years, the world gets together to anxiously watch a competition that some find fascinating, others don’t care about but can’t seem to escape, and still others just find weird.

No, I’m not talking about the American Presidential election. Although now that you mention it …

Olympic games actually take place every two years, since they separated the summer and winter games. That makes sense – for all intents they’re two entirely different events. For instance, you could try curling on a hot August day, but without ice that game would just sink like a stone.

Many people are startled to learn I follow the Olympics, after often and loudly proclaimed my hatred of sports. Maybe I’m just a fan of big events in general: The only sports I watch annually are the Superbowl (where I schedule breaks so I can see the commercials) and the Indianapolis 500. If I wasn’t a Hoosier and thus required to care by state law, I might not be watching one car race a year, either.

When I was a kid every family holiday gathering involved a football game, which is how I learned to always have a book with me.

And yet I like the Olympics, and the truth is I don’t hate sports (except for basketball); I just don’t care one way or another. You explain to me why I should, and I’ll explain to you why you should be watching Fringe.

During the Olympics we watch many sports that we don’t even realize exist the other three years. The exception is that I don’t watch Olympics basketball, yet I can’t seem to escape basketball at any time. Have the playoffs started interfering with the pre-season games, yet?

The highlight of this entire Olympics – granted that they aren’t over yet – had to have been during the opening ceremony. For those who didn’t watch it, a film shows the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, getting out of a car at Buckingham Palace in London. He’s escorted through the place, then shown through a door. And there James Bond stands, waiting on the Queen of England to finish the letter she’s writing.

Like most people, I thought, “I wonder who they got to play the Queen?” She’s what, 86? Certainly not an actor, Queen Elizabeth leads a private life when she’s not appearing before millions of people.

Then she turns around, and it’s actually her. From clear over here in the colonies, you could hear all of Britain roaring its approval as Her Majesty got up and led James Bond back through the castle. We were treated to a bemused look from Craig, who must have been thinking, “Here I am, playing a fictional character escorting the real Queen of England; what a world.”

The two get on a helicopter, parachute out over the Olympic stadium, and then, in what I assume is a fun bit of trick timing, the Queen is introduced live as she takes her seat. Knowing that woman, maybe it wasn’t trick timing.

I don’t care how jaded you are, that was cool.

The rest of the games so far haven’t been able to match that moment, but not for lack of trying:

In the first six days of competition six world records were set in swimming alone. It’s just a matter of time before Missy Franklin arrives at the stadium, only to discover she’s already won.

Also doing well this year was one of Great Britain’s rowing team, Mark Hunter. I don’t usually follow rowing, but for some reason I’ve been interested; I just like the guy’s name.

The first Olympic sport I ever followed was women’s gymnastics, after falling madly in love as a teenager with first Nadia Comaneci, then Mary Lou Retton. But did they answer my letters? Cancel the restraining orders? Noooooo …

Today I’m still left speechless by the abilities of kids who have got to rank among the best all-around athletes of any sport. They may not be able to take a hit like a footballer, but I’ll bet a footballer can’t do a back spring-half flip-head touching knees spin into a round-off backward somersault – then land on a four inch wide beam.

I’m patriotic enough to be happy about America’s women’s team winning the gymnastics gold for the first time since 1996. Then there was the all-around gold medal, clinched in style by the bubbly Gabby Douglas, nicknamed “The Flying Squirrel” even though squirrels aren’t as flexible and can’t get enough hang time.

I can’t begin to tell you how happy I was that nobody stressed out about Douglas being the first black gymnast to win the all-around. She’d forgotten that herself, until somebody pointed it out to her, and that’s the way race relations should be: Unnoticed. (In an ironic bit of what could be called reverse discrimination, I had trouble telling some of her teammates apart. Or is that age?)

The final attention grabber I wanted to mention was during an interview with Caroline Lind, just after her rowing team won the gold. When asked if she felt they’d clinched it before the race ended, she said, “You never know what can happen in a boat race. You can catch crabs, anything.”

My wife looked at me and said, “Did she just say catch crabs?”

We rewound it three times. Yep. That’s what she said. And I can see how that would take your mind off rowing, especially if you caught them during the race.

A trip to Google cleared it up: “catching crabs” is a term for when you don’t dig your oar into the water just right, throwing off your rhythm and slowing the boat. Honestly, I think it’s time they considering looking for a new expression. It’s as if being thrown off by a loud crowd was called “getting the clap”.

I guess all I can do is watch until the time comes that something I can excel at is introduced as an Olympic sport. Say … Olympic Home Repair Injuries?

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