The Summer Olympics begin today! Remember Hodori from the Games in Seoul? I remember being a young kid in 1988, wondering what the heck this guy was, since he was everywhere: hanging from rear-view mirrors, smiling back at me from hats and shirts, etc.
So began my love affair with the Olympics. Here are five reasons why I always look forward to the Games:
1. Parade of Nations
During the opening ceremonies (which I also love, but duh, that’s a given to any Olympic viewer), I love watching the procession of all the countries and their uniform-clad athletes doing a loop around the stadium. I always learn some useless (yet interesting!) facts about the countries, but the best part is seeing how the athletes themselves are also in awe of the experience, snapping away their own personal photos from a well-deserved vantage point and pointing things out to their teammates and friends ’cause they’re just so damn excited to be there.
2. Cheering for local Olympians!
They’re not just our countrymen… they’re practically our neighbors! They’re just like us! we tell ourselves. Actually, no, they’re not like us at all. When I was nine, I was plotting how to sneak Doritos from my aunt’s pantry while these guys at that age were waking up at 5 am to train as rigorously as people twice their age.
This year, I’m particularly excited to watch Lia Neal from Brooklyn and Bronx-born Cullen Jones from New Jersey. Cullen and I have a lot in common: when he was five, he almost drowned at Dorney Park, which compelled his mom to enroll him in swim lessons, and when I was 11, nearly the same thing happened at Action Park, who had to turn off their Tidal Wave Pool for me. Olympians — we’re just like them!
3. Sepia-toned marketing campaigns, cleverly disguised as inspiration
Solemnly narrated (usually by granddaughter-dater Morgan Freeman), these ads are a mix of unforgettable moments from the past (like Great Britain’s Derek Redmond in 1992, above) and emotionally charged back-stories of contemporary athletes (this obviously is most effective when they’re from former Soviet states or currently impoverished nations). Usually impervious to corporate-sponsored manipulation, when it comes to the Olympics, I’m a total sucker: I hear the swelling background music, and I fall for it hook, line, and sinker!
4. Pomp, circumstance, and emotional intensity of medal ceremonies
Despite the fact that there are always heavy favorites, the best part of sport (yes, SPORT) is that you never know what’s going to happen. Sure, I’m Team USA, but our athletes have access to some of the best facilities and top coaches in the world. It’s always heart-tugging to see the little guys from a smaller nation win a surprise medal and watch their tears flow as their country’s flag hangs above them.
5. Wondering about what we don’t see
Networks can boast as much as they want about having complete access to the Games, but what do we really know about what happens backstage or in the Olympic Village? The media tells us stories about earnest, hard-working athletes, which is why it’s kind of awesome to hear about snarky behavior (like Nancy Kerrigan griping about waiting for Oksana Baiul to apply her makeup before their figure-skating medal ceremony in 1994).
But way more interesting is all the sex that takes place in the Olympic Village. Is this really surprising when thousands of the world’s top physical specimens are cramped in close quarters? As U.S. goalie Hope Solo recently told ESPN The Magazine, “With a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you want to build memories, whether it’s sexual, partying or on the field. I’ve seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty.” Sounds amazing.
HAPPY OLYMPICS, EVERYBODY!