by Ted Manna
American Reporter Correspondent
April 23, 2008
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Shawn Johnson has the loveliest green eyes.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you aren't one of the many people walking around red-eyed and yawning because they've been up until 1 a.m. every night watching the Olympics.
If you do know what I'm saying, then it's because we enjoyed a close-up of those beautiful eyes as Shawn awaited her turn to step onto the platform and receive a gold medal for doing something that, until now, I would have thought was physically impossible: stand on a narrow padded strip of wood and do somersaults backwards.
As a rule, I'm a halfhearted athletic fan. I watch the occasional football game, and my husband, who is a sports nut, likes to joke that after 19 years I've finally got my green card for Red Sox Nation. But I'm still the kind of person who mostly watches the big events - the Super Bowl and the World Series.
The Olympics - the biggest bang for the biggest buck - are obviously made for people like me.
I can't tell you how many times this week my cat has jumped up from her deep and almost endless sleep because I screamed or gasped when I saw something incredible. Synchronized diving? Who would even think of doing that? Trampolines? Men hauling their bodies high into the air while holding onto steel rings? Parallel to the ground? With every muscle straining? Amazing!
My husband says I watch the Olympics with the eyes of a child. He means that I don't think about the repressive nature of the Chinese government and the way it cheats. (Those gymnastics girls are 16?). Or how it has stifled all dissent. I don't think about doping and whether these amazing speeds and strengths only mean better athletics through chemistry.
And the commercialism goes right over my head. I adore Michael Phelps, and if, the day after he wins his last (of eight, in case you hadn't heard) gold medal, he comes out saying what he misses the most during training is junk food, and then gets photographed stuffing fries into his face at McDonald's, and the next day gets photographed with his arm around Ronald McDonald, I don't care.
The guy is thrilling to watch, and outside of the gorilla-faced up-yours behavior he displayed after the Americans won that relay, he's actually been rather self-effacing. And if I'd just spent 10 years of my life in hard training three times a day, every day, with no time off for a life, I think I'd want people to cut me some slack and let me cash in.
I watch the Olympics as a sensualist, and not just because I enjoy marveling at the beautiful bodies.
I gasp when a gorgeous horse jumps over a fence and somehow stays in the air long enough to clear the pond that's hidden behind it. I scream when Anastasia "Nastia" Luikin does a perfect grande jete on the balance beam. I was screaming "No!" watching the fearless perfection of Guo Jingjing's dives - she can jump so high on the springboard, twist her body into so many improbable shapes in the air, then enter the water in a perfectly vertical without making much of a splash. It's no wonder she's the most decorated female diver of all time. It's no wonder the cat jumps.
I lost my heart to Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser, the women's 100 meter gold medalist. When she realized she had won, Fraser giggled with joy and disbelief. Then she ran halfway around the track before laying down, covering her face with the Jamaican flag and wriggling in pure happiness.
And don't get me started on grandstanding Jamaican Usain Bolt, who was so far ahead in the 100-meter sprint that he pretty much stopped running and started celebrating even before he had reached the finish line. It was only 9.69 seconds - yes, he broke his own world record - and he couldn't contain his joy. And the dance move he did after the race? It has a name. According to the Jamaican Gleaner (established in 1834), it's called the 'Nuh Linga'. And its creator, 24-year-old dancer Marlon 'Overmars' Hardy 'of the dance troupe Ravers Clavers, is grateful. "Mi feel great inna mi self, fi si seh di fastest man a do my dance and break the record on my birthday," he said.
By the time you read this, Bolt may have become the first man since Carl Lewis in 1984 to take Olympic gold in both the 100- and 200-meters. And yes, I know that there is a long history of Jamaicans using performance-enhancing drugs. And yes, I still don't care.
I love how emotionally real the athletes are. Real concentration, real sadness, real despair, real joy on young people's faces - how often do you get to see that, especially on television, where "reality" is the code word for bloodthirsty competition - who gets thrown off the island; whose karaoke singing style best pleases which judges; who can fake the tango best in an improbably sequined outfit held together with double-sided tape and elastic bands?
Yes, I'm watching way too much television. Yes, on three channels. Yes, I'm starting to like Bob Costas. Yes, I think Mary Carillo should have her own show. And yes, I'm staying up way too late. However, mon, the Olympics bring me awe at the possibilities of human potential. They bring me joy. They make mi feel great inna mi self!
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at email@example.com.