Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Olympics

The opening ceremonies were so spectacular I sometimes wish they’d cut directly to the closing ceremonies with an exhibition or two in between. Instead, after expressions of camaraderie, we get fierce competition provoking nationalism, grudges and divisive rivalries.

In spite of a general disinterest in most events I watch along with an expected global audience of two hundred million. I become an avid fan fixed on these athletes who soar and swoop and leap and loop in sports I’ve barely heard of. I even cultivate a sudden and short-lived enthusiasm for such alien pastimes as curling, biathlon and downhill mogul. If I learn the difference between a double axle and triple lutz I’m sure I’ll forget it before the next Olympics.

I’m caught up in ice dancing and snowboard competition but can’t work up much enthusiasm for the luge except relief when it’s over and no one else has met his maker at ninety mph.

Is anyone else bothered by the perfection we ask of these young men and women? The winners all have perfect teeth and the losers lay soft-boiled eggs, They all look great to me. But a bobble here and a wobble there and they’re dead meat. Is it right that teenagers should live in slavish servitude to their event and then return home humiliated because they didn’t nail the landing?

Bad enough that Sparta reigns over Athens for a few weeks. In the rush for gold the ice is littered with broken dreams but it’s the judges who frighten me most. They have those jaundiced eyes that see only faults and give me the heebie-jeebies. Dare I eat a peach?

When I cut the morning melon I can feel the eyes of the Bulgarian scorer all over me taking off points for my grip. Have I divided the sphere into four precise quadrants? Let’s get an instant reply and take out our protractors.

The next time I negotiate my shopping cart through Costco I must remember how those giant slaloms did it. But I’d better not try the speed bumps on the side streets at Olympian pace when the limit is 15 mph.

When the gun goes off for the speed skating sprint did I detect an ever so slight lunge? Tell me, what is the first bud in an early spring other than a lurch in response to the starter’s gun?

If I were a judge I’d give messy humanity it’s due. A misstep here, a blemish there. Satchmo’s rasp, the riff not on the page. Blessed are the slips and flops, the accidents that have gotten us this far as we stumble our way along. Hopi potters knew to make an imperfection in their bowls so not to offend the gods.

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