Yesterday I produced the London 2012 segment where everyone identified their “athletes to watch.” Jon Wertheim from Sports Illustrated gave us one obvious choice, Michael Phelps - and two lesser-knowns: A gymnast from the Bronx and a Judo champ from Palestine.
As we sat in the morning meeting and tossed the topic around, I could feel myself starting to catch the fever. But I didn’t realize just how excited I was, until S.E. confessed that she was a little bit embarrassed about not yet having an Olympian she was excited to watch.
To which I responded: Who cares? That’s the best part. Most of the appeal is not knowing the competitors.
This isn’t like the Superbowl or the NBA Finals - where you already know:
- Which team and players you like, or...
- That you don’t care for the sport at all.
Trust me, you may not know most of the Olympians right now, but by the time it's over - you’ll love them. The Olympics draws you in, baiting you with national pride, cute outfits, and a well choreographed dance party - and then hooks you with the human interest stories. If Oprah had a kid with NCAA Tournament, while they were listening to Marvin Gaye’s national anthem, it would be the Summer Olympics. You are powerless, you will cry tears of love and blot them away with a flag.
And when some of the American athletes inevitably disappoint - there are 10-thousand other athletes from exotic locations, with incredible back-stories for you to follow! A South African sprinter who’s also a double-amputee! You’ll hear about the debate over letting him compete, because losing his legs is seen by some as an “advantage.” A 17 year-old Russian gymnast tinkerbell, who’s carrying the country’s hopes of Gold for the all-around. The 45 year old U.S. Swimmer who swears this year is her last Olympics, after taking 3 medals in 2008. A 71 year old Japanese Equestrian. The 400-meter star who was shot in both legs not even 4 years ago. The list goes on, and on, and on...
Will you watch? Of course you will. Because there’s nothing like being able to watch a random event with a group of people that are all way to amped up for the same cause. It’s inexplicable, it’s amazing, it’s enthralling, and usually you have to be in a bar in the West Village at 10am watching the Euro Cup to experience it. But not this year, because in 8 days you can settle on to the couch, or turn on the office TV, or meet up with friends and watch the largest group of insanely-talented, frighteningly-focused, ruthlessly-competitive people this side of the Capitol. It’s like watching the real-life Hunger Games, except no teenagers get butchered, and last 1/3 of it won’t get all preachy on you.
Speaking of children killing each other - the Summer Olympics are the pinnacle of family entertainment. Think about it, what shows can you actually sit down and watch with your entire family, ages 5 to 80? Nothing. Especially in the summer. I have to turn off Breaking Bad when my brother comes over, and he’s 22.
But the Olympics? You turn them on and WORST case scenario, your kid cries because the U.S. didn’t win, and your grandfather yells at the TV, and calls somebody a “Commie.” Either way, you get a teachable moment where you get to instill some sportsmanship.
The BEST case scenario? You’re 8, and you see a 13 year old from China win the high-dive. Or a South African woman and an Ethiopian woman run a victory lap hand-in-hand, as your parents try fruitlessly to explain apartheid, and how incredible it is to see those two colors finally overlap. Or you sit with your father and watch the greatest basketball team ever constructed as he tells you, “Nothing like this has ever been done before.” Or you’re 12 and you’re watching Carl Lewis - supposedly too old - win gold in the long jump. Or you’re introduced to Dominique Dawes, who - you can’t say for certain - but you’re pretty sure is the girl you’re going to marry. And on, and on, and on...
Because for once in your life, the possibilities truly are limitless. That could be you standing on that podium, or celebrating with your teammates, or taking the victory lap. Maybe not at the Olympics, but in your town, or at your job, or in your class...
World Records get shattered, national heroes are created, hopes get dashed, and miracles happen. And you’re there watching live - when something happens that people will still be talking about 100 years from now. People sit and listen to national anthem’s they don’t understand, that belong to countries they can’t pronounce... And they cry.
Because everyone appreciates seeing a person realize their life’s dream.