Small Moments of Joy in an Olympics Filled with Dread

The triumph, short-lived. The feeling that we may have witnessed one of the last Games, forever.

I can’t recall a time in my life when I didn’t have Olympic fever.

In ‘84, my parents made a gross miscalculation by sending me three hours away to summer camp rather than driving me an hour and a half to the LA Coliseum to see Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Evelyn Ashford, and Mary Decker (Zola Budd!!) perform; the letters home certainly reflected my disdain.

In those very early moments of fandom, I understood the Olympics, and the individual and team performances within them, could neither be replicated nor re-watched. (for starters, we didn’t even have a VCR.)

…Somehow, the concept of FOMO is lost on me in all manner of public life, with the single exception of watching live sports.

It’s something I only grew to appreciate as I aged, training for hours on end with marginal results. Then tuning in once every four years to see real-life unscripted drama unfolding when I least expected, lifting me up along with it.

Non-sequitur, but in the aftermath of competition if no journalist EVER asks an athlete, “What’s next for you?” again—I’ll be more than okay with that.

I think this line of inquiry came from the Bob Costas school of knee-jerk moralizing and snap condescension.

Indeed, this person HAS to have goals beyond that chintzy piece of hardware around their neck. Come, join us in our cubicles you’ll fit in fine.

…The only thing I love about that question is the teeth-clinched *Fuck you* smile they get just before the answer spills out; something like: “We’ll see. For now, I’m going to take a few weeks off, be with my family and friends, and then see about (Insert the name of the next Olympic host city here.)”

To me, in spite of a pandemic raging right outside the Olympic Village walls tainting everything, these Tokyo Games were eerily similar to Rio and Sochi—watched more out of obligation and that fear of missing out than anything else.

Were there Olympic moments that transcended my spare bedroom TV and the soreness in my back from sitting on the Ikea fold-out couch for too long? Were there six minutes that lifted me up to a higher place? Yes, absolutely.

What comes to mind is the dominance of Bermuda’s Flora Duffy in the triathlon, bringing home her country the size of the town you grew up in (63,000) its first gold.

Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff, maybe the most fun athlete in the world to watch, slashing and sanding it on her mountain bike and riding through injury and pain like a banshees on her way to gold.

Simone Biles, half a world away from getting the help and the time she truly needed, battling everything—including common sense—to get back on a four-inch balance beam and medal, not for her teammates, not her country, or her sponsors, or her legacy. Just one more moment for herself.

It was the U.S. Women’s soccer team coming back to capture a bronze; the veteran squad which continues to put themselves in the spotlight off the pitch for equality, women’s rights, equal pay rights, have been vilified by an entire arm of fascist-, white supremacist media who actively encourages their listeners to ROOT AGAINST THEM, came in and didn’t obliterate the competition as much as they did perform one or two notches above where they should have to take home a medal. A giant middle finger to the hate-speech industrial complex.

How bout the men’s high jump with Mutaz Essa Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi deciding to split gold and refuse a jump-off to see who “the real number one is”—providing the most jumper-specific feels (and best moment of these Games) I can think of.

The aging-from-relevance-but-still-employed AM sportstalkguy who was hand-wringing about this and bringing in choreographed Alpha language co-opted by the far-right grifters, charlatans, and goons can rest assured that true Alphas know the glory is meant to be parsed out and distributed among the deserving.

But to me, THE moment of this Olympics was when US women Lydia Jacoby, Regan Smith, Torri Huske, and Abbey Weitzell won silver in the women’s 4x100 medley relay, the last swimming event of the Games.

It wasn’t the medal that they took home or the quartet—three of whom were relative unknowns before these games—having their final scene in “Pineapple Express“ time together on national TV,

...But it was what was said as they parted from the group hug and went out to do the post-race interview. They turned to one another and half-screamed, “It’s over. We can go home. We can GO HOME.”

Then came the tears.

And that was it to me. That was these Olympics. No athletes hanging out in the village post-competition looking for Big Macs and action. No emptied-out fishbowls of condoms. No international baby boomlet here. Keep your cardboard beds and your Kylo Ren masks and get me on the first plane the fuck out of quarantine village.

And that’s just it. As much as the networks tried, as the athletes tried, as we’ve tried to pretend this is normal or even the “new normal” is normal. It’s not.

The world is sick. The West is on fire. All of this goes back to climate change, a planet in the throes of stagnated policy, insane capitalism, paralyzed governments, and a rise in fascism. Humankind doing the exact wrong thing—to our home, to one another—at the exact wrong time.

If we’ve got one thing in common, it’s that we’re all a little guilty of making things worse in the name of one moment of glory, to feel... something. But also, it’s of being too overwhelmed to change—a thing we should learn from all Olympic stories…

Because it’s never too late to do something—to at least attempt to lift one another up. Because if we all lose that, then we’ve lost—totally.

Were these games worth it? I don’t know. Probably not.

The feeling of these Olympics was more dread than anything else. The glory of coming together as a world and capturing a quiet and seamless moment of perfection on the biggest stage is fantasy and maybe it always has been and I just bought into the narrative more when the world was an easier place.

But now, more than ever, we have real work to do that we’re not doing to get this thing back on track—as individuals, as countries, as inhabitants of one dazzlingly rich planet. What needs to happen isn’t happening at all, which means it’s not happening nearly fast enough for us to feel real glory again. Nevermind all the stuff we have to give up now to change—if we don’t, we’re talking extinction.

At the same time, maybe these little miracles in the pool, on the court, on the mat, around the track are all we’ve got.

Maybe it’s the most we were capable of after all.