The Olympics are the ultimate reality TV.
The agony, the ecstasy. The tears, trauma, silliness, and sheer epic pageantry. The sense of awe as every four years, the best in the world compete somewhere I’ll probably never see… and leave impressions of the best and worst of humanity.
I’m a huge Olympics fan.
My Olympics fascination started in 1984, when I actually went to several events in Los Angeles. I was 18 years old. I watched swimming, diving, and some sort of boat race with a lot of young friends. It was a blur of crowds, heat, and bad pictures with a disposable Fujifilm camera.
In 1988, I was married with a baby on the way in a tiny cottage in California. The Olympics were a nightly ritual in bed in our tiny loft. My husband, who resembled Michael Phelps to a scary degree in those days (he’s silver-haired now) shared my fascination as he’d almost qualified for the Olympics in breaststoke.
In 1992 we had two young children and lived in a drafty Victorian in Indiana while we attended college. The two of us were still glued to the TV, eating popcorn and letting the kids stay up past bedtime to cheer for our favorites.
In 1996 we had moved to Michigan, and we had friends over for our favorite events, and the kids trashed the house while we watched every night, glued again. Mike and I are both criers, and made no shame about it.
In 2000 we were back in Hawaii, the kids were approaching junior high, and we made them watch with us for the character building and patriotism opportunities—but mainly just to share something with them that we so loved being a part of.
In 2004 the kids were high schoolers, and we were able to get them to watch gymnastics and that was about all. But we remained fascinated. “Oh my gosh, you look just like Michael Phelps!” I exclaimed. My 6’4” lean, lantern-jawed, long-armed former swimming champ husband is very happy with this comparison.
In 2008 the kids were gone for college, and it was the two of us again. We have lounge chairs now, and boxes of Kleenex, and unabashedly revel in the utter amazement that was the Beijing games.
It’s now 2012. The kids are grown and living in the Mainland, and if they’re watching it’s probably online or on their phones, we don’t even know. But we’re still cheering, here on Maui, with our free antenna TV reception, and a ritual that continues to bring the two of us together. (We’ve always been super competitive, and loved the kind of individualistic sports that the Olympics really showcases.)
“You still look like Michael Phelps to me, baby,” I say, from my lounge chair to his. He lifts his artificial shoulder to do a fist pump.
Yes, I love the Olympics and hope to see many more. It was great to see Michael Phelps win his record medal, to witness his career from the beginning. One of the gifts of aging is that you get to build a history—and the Olympics are part of ours.
What have you enjoyed about the Olympics? How has it shaped YOUR history?