One of the things I’ve been finding the most amazing is the sportsmanship in this Olympics. (Also, I find myself narrating my performance in court these days. “Vado stays totally cool under pressure, doesn’t interrupt the Judge, doesn’t correct him even though he is currently screaming at her for an error that she did not cause, and now she is going to go negotiate a settlement.”) But my complex aside, sportsmanship.
There are certain sports where everybody hugs or congratulates each other afterwards with a look of fierce hatred or disappointment still on their face. It’s especially painful in swimming, where athletes hug before they even get out of the pool, and gymnastics, where the cameras are right in the face and the gymnasts are really struggling not to show too much emotion in any direction. In swimming, it’s usually the gold medalist hugging the person the edged out by a thousandth of a second to win. The person who didn’t win is in shock and just wants to get the hell out of there, take a deep breath, and punch something hard. With the gymnasts, there is a look on their face of “hug me , I just want to get the eff out of here.” I totally get this. It’s really hard to shake the hand of the opposing team and say, “good game” at the end of a game that you should have won and didn’t. It’s even harder to walk out there and shake the hand of the winner when you feel deeply deeply disappointed in yourself.
Then you have the people who are genuinely thrilled to hug the person who won, who is the best in the world. These are the people who are okay with walking away and saying, “I got a silver medal” or “I’m the tenth fastest person in the world”. These are the people I find amazing. My favorite so far is Sam Mikulak, who vaulted, realized he wasn’t going to medal, and said something like, “this guy is gonna tear it up” and then after Yang Hak Seon vaulted, ran up to him and said, “GIVE ME A HUG THAT WAS RIDICULOUS.” There is something about getting beaten when you were at your best and the other guy was at his best and he’s just that good that it is simply humbling. I really think it’s impossible not to feel joy at that kind of moment. I love watching these moments. It’s probably a big part of why I’m such an Olympics junkie.
In Born to Run, McDougal says, “the reason we race so much isn’t to beat each other but to be with each other.” This is so true, and I think it leads to true sportsmanship. When you are one of the best athletes in the world, there are only a few other people who can play at the same level, who can do what you do, and who know what it’s like. So to get to compete in an event with all of them must be a pretty cool opportunity. When you cross the finish line, the only people who know how insane what you went through is the other people who crossed behind you. I keep going back to the women’s road race, when the women all finished and it was just a giant hug fest. I imagine them saying, “this rain is insane! how do you train in it?” to the British athletes and, “amazing strategy!” to the Dutch riders and “crap timing!” to Shelley Olds, for whom a flat tire pretty much kept her from medaling. Maybe they were all saying, “Bitch, I hope you die”, but if anyone is that good an athlete and that good an actress, well, it’s just impressive.