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Note to the Olympics: I’m ready

By
August 7, 2008

I have always dreamed of competing in the Olympic Games. Sadly, as with so many who have dared to dream of glory, the only thing that held me back was lack of athletic talent.

It seems so unfair given the level of my desire. With the Beijing Olympics opening on Friday, I should be rejoicing but instead I am reminded of my old limitations.

Why, that could be me, standing proudly on the winner’s podium and choking back patriotic tears, if only I were 20 seconds faster in the 100-meter dash or four hours faster in the marathon.

What a story I would make. I have bravely struggled to overcome male pattern baldness and an addiction for french fries on sandwiches and now I stand ready to leap into action in pursuit of gold — well, not leap exactly, but sort of shuffle in an attempt to overcome inertia, which can be awfully stubborn. Still, I could inspire millions.

Every games needs a hero ordinary people can relate to. Note to selectors: I am available on short notice if anybody on the team is feeling poorly. That’s the trouble with super-fit athletes; they are always getting hurt or sick. It is the slow, rounder sort of person who is able to come to work every day. I find it is very hard to get a stress fracture on the couch, although I did get a paper cut once reading a magazine.

In recent years, and I am sure the Beijing Olympics will be no exception, the TV moguls have insisted that the Olympic action be delivered as a soap opera for the benefit of viewers who don’t like sports much but do like a good cry. The idea is to make the athletes seem vaguely human, even if they have muscles in places where you and I don’t even have places.

Of course, it used to be that TV coverage of the Olympics focused on the actual events, but that has come to seem hopelessly old-fashioned. Who cares about the discus, really, except frustrated UFO enthusiasts? And how can a producer make the shot put seem sexy? What the TV people are looking for ideally is a story about a discus thrower who is dedicating his throws to his Mom, who always retrieved the discus when it was heaved into the creek at the back of the house by mistake.

This sentimental interlude always starts with really sappy music so that the viewer knows that a heartbreaking story of setbacks and sacrifice is about to unfold.

This is all very well and good but it betrays the fact that some of the events are less than riveting on their own. Racewalking is one such example. It looks like a bunch of people trying to rush to the bathroom without breaking into an embarrassing run.

Another problem with many Olympic events is that the standards of performance are unrealistic. This great carnival of humanity does not have room for the very human specimen who is a sports hero in his heart but not in his sneakers.

Just because someone cannot do prodigious leaps or back flips or swim several laps of the pool in the time it takes an average person to dip his toe in the water, it is no reason to take the view that the great privilege of representing one’s country be restricted to those with a chance of winning.

That is why I am calling today for new events to be added to the games roster so that the average person can hope to participate. Now, I don’t want to come across as more average-than-thou, but I can suggest a few events that would tend to democratize the proceedings: Text-messaging on cell phones would be an up-to-the-moment event. I couldn’t compete myself, but I understand that moving the thumbs passes as good exercise among our youth. Besides, the more of them that enter the text messaging the fewer there will be entering the events favoring the older type of non-athlete.

I have my sights set on the 100-meter freestyle whine. Contestants are allowed to walk the 100 meters in five minutes and the judges pick a winner on the basis of the number and creativity of the whines. This is one event where women can compete on equal terms to men; why, they can even hold an advantage if they are married.

I did not even get to the timed car wash and the synchronized elevator conversation.

No steroid abuse is likely in these events, which would supply any number of sappy stories about non-athletes overcoming their mediocrity.

Say after me: USA! USA!

 

(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com)