An Olympic Moment

by DavalosMcCormack on August 11, 2008

I think the word “awe” is vastly overused. Along with “like” and “whatever” it’s a word that is trotted out by many people at a moment’s notice without giving much thought as to whether the thing they are talking about is really awe inspiring. But watching the Olympics really does leave me with a sense of awe.

I’m not talking about the opening ceremonies. Sure, it’s fun to watch people running along the walls of the stadium or to see 15,000 people dancing around in perfect synchronization (though that’s always tempered by the knowledge that you are then going to have to sit through an endless stream of athletes from Alzeria to Abbadabbadoobistan parading through the stadium, knowing it’s a long way to Zanzibar!) but the truly inspiring stuff begins when the opening ceremonies end and the athletes get down to work.

It’s not just the astonishing physiques of the athletes themselves, it’s mostly the grace, elegance and beauty of what they do. I can watch a soccer game and tell myself “I can do that” even if I can’t do it as well, as fast or as smoothly as the players. But when I see a gymnast do a routine on the rings, or the pommel horse, or anything at all I have no illusions that I could do anything even remotely similar to that. When I see a swimmer gliding through the water with incredible speed or a diver contorting their body in ways that seem to defy several rules of physics, I’m left speechless with admiration.
The sheer strength and control needed to perform their routines are truly awe inspiring. In men’s gymnastics, for instance, when they propel their body up and around and then stop in an instant so that they are doing a hand stand, on rings, held up by ropes, 10 feet off the ground my only response is one of sheer amazement. And admiration.

I know that years and years of grinding, grueling, bone-breaking, muscle-aching work has gone into getting to that one moment. That over a life-time of training they have honed their craft down to a few seconds of what they hope will be perfection. And sometimes, oftentimes, they fall short. They miss a rotation or their balance is slightly off on landing. Such minute imperfections may cost them a few tenths of a point, the difference between a gold medal and fourth place.

For the athlete that can be crushing. In most cases these are athletes who are not making a lot, or in some cases any, money from their sport. They do it because they get status from it, or because it gets them certain privileges in their country. But most of all they do it because they love it, because they have a gift for it. Once they retire they go back to being ordinary people, indistinguishable from the rest of us.

But for a few brief moments they inspire us, and dazzle us with their genius, soaring to heights almost beyond belief. And even if they do come crashing back to earth, they are no less impressive, no less awe-inspiring to those of us who never left it.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: