How We All Become Olympic Experts

Olympics flag, Erika Voloncs,

Olympics flag, Erika Voloncs,


Must keep this short, I’m watching the Olympics!

How We All Become Olympic Experts

When I was a kid, there few things more inspirational than the Olympic Games.   I imagined visiting glamorous foreign places, and seeing the flag raised for me, and the crowds cheering my name.  I didn’t imagine practice or training or silly little things like that. Which probably explains why I didn’t get very far along that path.

The closest I came to the Olympic dream was in high school.  It was there I took up springboard diving, to satisfy a swimming/PE requirement.   It was the early 90s, which meant that everyone wanted to be Greg Louganis.  The coach, speaking to all us hopefuls one the first day said, “Our goal will be to learn the forms of the basic dives. Now, I don’t expect anyone to be Greg Louganis….”

At which point a voice from somewhere in the crowd (that sadly wasn’t mine ‘cause I’d failed to come up with a zinger fast enough) asked “if I hit my head on the springboard do I get an “A?”

The coach told him, in no uncertain terms, that this would not improve his grade.

I didn’t hit my head on the springboard.  And, while I enjoyed the sport, I learned I was probably not destined for Olympic diving fame.

But this didn’t stop me from becoming an exceptionally annoying commentator whenever diving was on.

I would tell everyone who wasn’t really listening, that “Well, they can’t be doing a reverse dive, because they’re not starting in the right place.” I also had just enough knowledge to notice the most obvious errors, like turns that were over-rotated  and make the universal “Uh. Oh.” of disappointment without explaining why I was making this sound, to force people to ask me what I’d seen. You know the sound.

It’s almost a gasp; but not nearly as dramatic as an actual expression of emotion. It’s a mix of insufficiently stifled glee coated over with the socially expected expression of concern.  This is the same sound made by commentators on TV when someone doesn’t stick the landing or completely falls off the equipment. Strangest to me is that it doesn’t really matter the magnitude of the error, the only immediate acceptable sound of disproving dismay you will hear is “Uh. Oh.”

Of course, these same people who barely acknowledge your bleeding, concussed head after it hit the springboard are the same people who won’t let you forget it. They’ll replay that moment more than the moments when you didn’t end up in a sitting position on the mat after a spectacular tumbling run.

What I love about the Olympics is that anything we know about these sports most of us only pay attention to once every four years comes from watching them every four years.  We all become “enlightened” commentators on these sports, talking about “split times” or “mandatory deductions,” like we talk about them all the time.  For 17 days, we share these experiences not only with our fellow countrymen and women, but, also, with people all over the world.  This is, of course, the entire point of the Games, and why the world has their eyes on London.