Friday, August 8, 2008

"Too Sensitive To Live?"

As a Canadian by birth, the Olympics do not have the same meaning for me that they do for Americans. They mean less because Canadians rarely win anything. Our greatest achievement during the 2004 Olympics was when it was announced that the American Olympic Team had requested that a Canadian sportswear company, Roots, provide them with their outfits for the “Opening Ceremonies.” I could imagine the super-sized headlines flashing across the country:


This doesn’t mean that the Olympics have no affect on me whatsoever. Au contraire, to be suddenly bilingual. The Olympics have an overwhelming, some might say, an unnaturally overwhelming affect on me. I’m writing this to determine if that’s true.

This is another in a series of “Is this just me?” posts. Due to my diminished contact with the outside world – and I was never that plugged in at the best of times – I am generally at a loss as to how “normal” people think and behave, and by “normal”, I mean “within the normal range.” This is one of the three continuing inquiries of this blog.

“What’s ‘normal, and is what I’m doing anywhere close?” (The other two issues are: “How do we know what is truly true?” and “What is it that makes us, an individuals, uniquely us?” If you happen to have the answers on these questions, please pass them along, so I can stop thinking about them and go outside.)

The Olympics telecasts get good ratings. People seem to like watching them. I like watching them. Especially the team events. Not counting the relays, where I sit in a pool of sweat, dreading that somebody’s going to drop the baton during the “hand-off.”

That’s my problem in a nutshell. I can’t stand watching people fail, especially when the failure involves embarrassment and shame. For this reason, I have never seen a single “reality” show. I also look away when they “split screen” the five nominees for the Oscar, and they’re announcing the winner.

World-class athletes. They train to the breaking point for months, maybe years, they beat out their compatriots at the national trials, pointing towards that culminating moment when put it’s all on the line. Everybody’s watching, their country’s pulling for them, their friends and family, screaming their support.

They mis-time their takeoff in the “High Jump” and they knock over the bar.


They’re disqualified for repeated “false starts”, losing before they even have a chance to compete.


Little, Romanian girl, “nails” her program on the “balance beam”, misses her landing, and topples to the ground.

It’s over.

And I’m just sick about it.

It’s not just the human competitors. It’s horses too.

You’re watching an equestrian event. The horse, proceeding confidently over a course laid out with a series of fences. It’s a “clean” ride. A medal is definitely within reach. And suddenly…


A rear hoof grazes a bar, which, nudged out of position, drops ominously to the ground.

As I watch these events, every time the horse jumps a fence, I’m suddenly looking at my shoes. When I hear that “Game Over” “Clank!” I feel a gut-wrenching knot in the pit of my stomach.

I feel terrible for the horse. Sure, the rider’s devastated, but can you imagine how the horse feels?

“A quarter of an inch higher. Why couldn’t I do that?”

“Crunch Time” and the animal “short-legged” it. In front of the biggest audience in the world. The biggest audience in the world? It was the world!

Competitors dream their whole lives about participating in the Olympics. And they don’t dream, “I came in twelfth, behind a country that doesn’t have horses.” They dream about winning. And then they don’t. I don’t know how they feel, but I feel devastated. And I’m not even in it.

Yeah, yeah. “It’s an honor just to participate.” But the honor’s going to lose considerable luster when you go into an unimaginably difficult, endlessly practiced dive, and you crack you head on the diving board on the way down.

I saw that. It was horrible. I don’t mean the blood. The blood was everywhere. But the guy! Louganis. He looked mortally stunned.

“That was my dive?”

What do you say to the guy No big deal? Come back in four years?

What if he’s too old? Then, it’s “Come back, never.” Your final memory of the Olympics? Smacking your head on the diving board!

That stuff stays with you for life. You’re in the checkout line at the supermarket:

“Excuse me. Aren’t you the guy who…?”

(BORED) “Yes.”

It goes on even after you’re dead. People hear your children’s last name…

“Didn’t your father…?”


You mess up in the spotlight and you’re marked for eternity. And I’m sitting there, watching it happen.

And as if that torture weren’t excruciating enough, the broadcasters have found imaginative strategies for upping the ante. The now obligatory “Biographical Snapshots” of the athletes intensify my over-active identification with the participants even further.

“Angelo is the youngest of nineteen children. His parents – both deaf – have sacrificed every penny they have, subsidized by contributions from townspeople who are even poorer than they are, so that Angelo could afford an Olympics-caliber trainer. And shoes.”

Angelo runs out of his lane, and is immediately disqualified.

Why do I have to know about these people? I care too much already!

I can’t sit, unmoved, watching lifelong fantasies go up in flames. I can’t stand it! Their disappointment is tearing me apart!

The long jumper, instantly banished for a foot fault. The smooth-striding hurdler, tumbling awkwardly to the ground. The pony-tailed acrobat, missing her triple somersault by an eyelash and landing on her head.

It’s too painful, I tell you! I can’t handle it! I can’t!

Okay, now. Is this just me?


Anonymous said...


I have always preferred to read because I can 'gloss over' the 'embarrassing' stuff. I hate to be embarrassed so I feel mortified on others' behalf.

I do watch Canadian and American Idols because I love the music.... blame the 70's and early 80's variety specials. But I will leave the room or fast forward, if taped, through the judges comments. If they can't say anything constructive or respectful, why listen?

Jess Kiley said...

Wow, I had no idea you were a failed Olympian in a past life.

Anonymous said...

Yep. You are waaaay too sensitive. :)
It's a competition. Otherwise, we would be watching a demonstration. Not so much fun, I think.

Joseph Thvedt said...

Louganis didn't have to come back in four years -- he won gold that year, despite the head/diving-board collision.

Earl Pomerantz said...

I don't know how many guys I got out there, but I can't believe that any blog has smarter or more responsive readers. Thank you for letting me know my counselors weren't lying to me. It really does mean "Everybody Loves Saturday Night" in Chinese. I feel a little badly for having doubted them.

MikeThe Blogger said...

"They mean less because Canadians rarely win anything. Our greatest achievement during the 2004 Olympics was ..."
Earl, that is because you watch American coverage of the games. Have you never heard of Donovan Bailey and the Canadian men's relay team in Atlanta? Of course when Donovan crushed the competition (American sprinters) his coverage for this premier event on NBC was meager. They concentrated on Michael Johnson who won the 200 and tried to turn HIM into "The Fastest Man on Earth". Canadians also do well in the rowing, kayaking, canoeing, diving, swimming, and bicycling events - many of which are not shi-shi enough tho be covered on US TV.

Okay, now I have to go watch Phelps do his thing... LOL!!