I’m not what you would call a sports fan.
Back in my days as a theatre teacher, I once scheduled a matinee performance of the school drama production on Grey Cup day, because I was completely oblivious to the Canadian Football League schedule.
I am equally oblivious to the National Hockey League schedule, such that I am apt to get caught up in ridiculous traffic jams or overcrowded restaurants, just because I am unaware that it is a game day.
I don’t understand why the Golf Channel even exists.
I did go to a professional football game once. I fell asleep.
So I don’t fully understand this thing that happens to me when the Olympics start.
Suddenly I care.
Suddenly I am glued to the TV, rooting for my team.
I haven’t forgotten all the reasons these Olympics are problematic–the host country’s record for human rights abuse– the ridiculous amount of money that gets spent that might have gone to making the lives of the local citizens better–the politics– the controversy.
But it is easy to set all that aside for the moment when the camera zooms in on the face of a nineteen year old from Quebec who has just won gold. Against the reigning champion of her sport. With her sister standing next to her on the silver side of the podium. Under those circumstances, I would be screaming ecstatically too.
From where I sit, the Olympics are different than other spectator sports. They engage me. I want to know what the score is, and who is winning.
I am interested in the athletes. I want to know their stories. I am mesmerized by the interviews that offer little glimpses into the journey that has taken these young people halfway around the world to measure their strength and skill against the best of the best.
I am interested in the effort. The sweat. The sacrifice. The camera panning the crowd and zeroing in on the competitor’s family looking down with tense anticipation.
Olympic competition feels real to me in a way that professional sporting events never do. So do the competitors. When I look at Olympic athletes I see real people who have worked hard to reach an incredible goal. When I look at professional sports, I just see highly paid entertainers.
Maybe I just fall victim to the hype. But that wasn’t hype on Justine’s face yesterday.
That was real.