April Moments

Maybe, just maybe, telling the story is just as important as the story itself

A parent’s perspective on the Olympics

I am a sucker for the Olympics.

Combine my inability to turn off the TV before midnight every night with Cecilia’s middle-of-the-night feeding anytime between 2 and 4 a.m., and I have not been getting much sleep lately.

But, it’s the Olympics. Once every two years. The greatest athletes in the world. Difficult to willingly pass up in my opinion.

When I gush about the Olympics, which has been happening often lately, people ask if I prefer summer or winter. I can honestly say, “I love them both.”

Gymnastics, swimming, diving and road cycling are my favorites in the summer. Track and field is OK too. I even watched some of the women’s beach volleyball. Can you say Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor?

My sports of choice for winter are skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping and figure skating. I enjoy watching speed skating and bobsled too.

I actually believe part of the reason we love the Olympics so much is because of the way NBC broadcasts it. Imagine if you had to watch every single heat – preliminary and semifinals – of every race, many of them with unknown athletes from sometimes obscure countries. I think most of us would be bored. Instead, NBC chooses to air the events and athletes about whom we care the most.

Take women’s gymnastics, for example. During the all-around competition, only the girls in the highest scoring group were shown on television. The other groups had many girls we never saw.

And, how about the stories of some of the most charismatic athletes? Like Oscar Pistorius, the “Blade Runner” or the “fastest man with no legs.” He didn’t make it into the finals of the men’s 400m race, but we care about his story.

Or, what about last night when Sarah Attar, only the second Saudi Arabian woman ever to compete in the Olympics, finished last in her preliminary round of the women’s 800m? She received a standing ovation. Why? Not because of her athletic ability (which is still superior compared to the average person), but because of her story. Clothed head to toe with only the skin of her face and hands exposed, she represented a glimmer of hope for the future of Saudi Arabian female athletes.

Truth be told, NBC’s broadcast decisions are largely based on money. Companies spend millions to have their spots aired during the Olympics, and prime-time viewing is the money slot, if you will. Most of the athletes are actually competing while we’re sleeping or at work, so the events we see in prime time are not live. In our social media age, this strategy has been heavily criticized. Having that time lag, though, is especially annoying for me because ESPN and other news outlets spew the results all over their television broadcasts and websites. My husband often leaves our TV on ESPN, and one day after work, while SportsCenter was airing, I heard one of the personalities say, “And, now in Olympic coverage.…” I stuck my fingers in my ears, closed my eyes and squealed like a child, “Aaaaahhhh, change the channel, change the channel!”

All that said, the Olympics are just special, for lack of a better word. Being an Olympic champion is a coveted honor among athletes. They get their chance only every four years. Some of the athletes feel that reality all too well. Like Lashinda Demus, who’s been trying for a gold medal in the women’s 400m hurdles since 2004. Immediately after winning the silver last night, she vowed to return to the 2016 games. I hope her twin boys are there too, again yelling, “Go Mommy!” I loved seeing and hearing those little cheerleaders!

Or, McKayla Maroney, the favorite for the women’s gymnastics individual vault gold medal. Her emotions were written all over her face, however, as she wore the silver during the medal ceremony. It was if her sideways scowl was screaming, “Lame! I was supposed to get the gold.”

That’s part of the Olympics, though. One chance. In a way, it’s difficult to comprehend how anyone could be disappointed with an Olympic silver medal. I recently read a story about the psychology behind that silver medal finish. A Cornell University psychology professor actually argued that winning the bronze is easier to stomach than earning the silver. Why? Because finishing third reminds one of how close she is to fourth, arguably the worst spot – so close to the podium; while coming in second feels like the first loser – so close to gold. I suppose this was true in Demus’s case when she was only a fraction of a second from winning or in Maroney’s situation when everyone, including presumptuous commentators Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlagel, considered her a shoe-in for the gold medal.

While some of the athletes may be disappointed with their performances, I’m pretty sure their parents are always proud. Sure, moms and dads share their children’s heartbreak, but I would venture to say that just seeing their children qualify for the Olympics makes their hearts swell with pride. I have loved watching the reactions of Olympians’ parents. It reminds me of Reese Witherspoon’s Best Actress Oscar acceptance speech in 2006 when she thanked her parents. “It didn’t matter if I was making my bed or making a movie,” she said. “They never hesitated to say how proud they were of me, and that means so very much to a child.” The looks on the Olympians’ parents’ faces echo that point.

And, while Olympians’ parents are bursting with pride, I bet they are also fighting the bittersweet reality of seeing their child as an adult. Here I go bringing up advertising again, but P&G’s commercial, “To their moms, they’ll always be kids,” sums up those feelings. If you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to have a tissue handy.

Originally published on ovparent.com.

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