Saturday, August 09, 2008

'Why watching the Olympics is torture for me'

Story here.

Everyone's excited about the Olympics. Marketing and endless hype have all good Americans whipped up into a frenzy of competition gluttony and "Go USA" zeal. And of course it isn't all hype: There's a lot to get excited about. Will 41-year-old Dara Torres strike gold in her record-breaking fifth Olympics, making 40 the new 20 once and for all? Will Michael Phelps become the winningest swimmer in history? Will the U.S. women's gymnastics team beat the Chinese, a repeat of the last World Championships? Or will the Chinese topple America's darlings, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, proving their country's mettle and worthiness? How will the U.S. men's gymnastics team perform without their leader, Paul Hamm, the 2004 Olympic champion? Who will be crowned the World's Fastest Human after the most anticipated 100-meter race in years? And lest we forget, who will test positive for steroids?

So there's no shortage of drama in Beijing. But I confess I'm deeply ambivalent about the Olympics. To tell the truth, I usually don't watch them at all. As a former internationally competitive gymnast, I find them too emotionally complicated -- exhilarating, depressing, disappointing, maddening, transcendent, draining. I get enough ups and downs in my own life -- I don't need to borrow others'. . . .

Which brings me to the third and final reason why I haven't tuned in throughout the years. Gymnastics is an impossibly dangerous sport, posting injury rates among young athletes that rival football's. Even those who are the best can fall, with sometimes tragic consequences. In 1987, at the World Sports Fair in Japan, Julissa Gomez missed a foot on the vault, crashed into the horse and broke her neck. She was paralyzed from the fall and later died from complications. But because there is five-star entertainment value in watching these darling pixies with glow-in-the-dark smiles, we forget the inherent risks. Their taped-up ankles should remind us, but we get swept up in the glory of it all. As someone who's faced it, I know the danger in this sport is ever-present. I can't watch without flinching. . . .

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