I have to confess. I am responsible for Paul Hamm’s gold medal at the Olympics in the all around gymnastics competition. And just to completely ease my conscience, I probably should admit I had a lot to do with Carly Patterson’s win in the women’s all around gymnastics competition also.
Why, you ask, would an aging baby boomer sitting on a couch in Anchorage who finds running up a short flight of stairs a physical challenge think that she had ANY connection whatsoever to the world of Olympic gymnastics? Well, the ugly truth is that I was the one who sent the bad vibes out to the other competitors urging them to falter, to fall, to take that extra step on landing.
What you need to understand here is that I am not ordinarily very interested in sports or athletics. In my own life, I tried softball once and quickly found out who the far back in right field position was for. We won’t even talk about my attempts to connect a thin piece of wood with a small, round moving object. Suffice to say, I never got close enough to first base to even catch sight of the opposing team’s right fielder.
I had a roommate for many years to whom the word seasons meant baseball, basketball or football. Any other concept of the passing of time just flew over his head. Once ESPN became available in Barrow, I was afraid he’d lose all ability to walk or be in sunlight.
But I never quite got caught up in the fascination of watching sports. So I never really followed them except for every two to four years when the Olympics were held. Then I became a blubbering captive of every sappy story put together by the networks to drag me into the personal life of some young person who had sacrificed their entire existence in order to be the best in the world at some obscure sport that would ultimately lead them to a chiropractor’s office very early in life. I mean, seriously, how many sports get covered at the Olympics that cause you to sit up, scratch you head and exclaim, “Huh!?” You’ve never heard of it and aren’t sure but what Bob Costas might not be pulling your leg in describing it.
The obvious exception to all this is gymnastics in the summer Olympics and ice-skating in the winter Olympics. Once every four years everyone becomes an expert in these fields and cheers on our American favorites as though we’d been there all along and knew exactly what we were cheering for.
In my life, my fascination with gymnastics comes from the fact that I still can’t believe anyone can voluntarily bend their bodies that way and then nonchalantly straighten up and keep going. I get absolutely wrapped up in watching for the moment when one of the gymnasts bends over into an impossible pose, suddenly gets a look of consternation on his/her face, and has to be carried from the gym twisted round like a pretzel.
But that never happens and so I find myself mesmerized by the battle of the perfect bodies unfolding on my TV. And as the competition progressed this year for the men and women’s All Around, I realized that in order to win, Carly and Paul needed someone else to falter. And as mean as it sounds, I found myself sitting there as the other gymnasts took to an apparatus thinking “Fall! Fall! Fall!”.
Now I’m sure each of those gymnasts – many from poor countries whose only hope for a future was to win the gold medal – deserved victory. But they weren’t American. And suddenly I was SO American that only an American win seemed a fair result.
The scary thing is that each time I thought “fall”, some gymnast stumbled and fell. Soon I was drunk on my own power and within minutes Paul and Carly were being crowned with olive wreaths as our new champions.
Victory was mine. And it tasted sweet. Now, I have to go rest up for the winter Olympics. Getting those other ice skaters to stumble at the right time will take all my energy and I need to start preparing now.