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The Beautiful Losers of the Olympics
After all, that's where the interesting stories are, as Liam and Megan O'Rourke proved with their engaging take on men's gymnastics over at the Los Angeles Review of Books. Liam writes, "watching longshot Kieran Behan stumble all over his floor routine and then smile the bitter smile of defeat was heartbreaking. My favorite Olympic moment of any sport today came when Louis Smith performed his superb pommel horse routine (ended getting the best score of the day on pommel horse) and then unexpectedly burst into tears...All of these moments made me think that, despite the fact that many people think of men’s gymnastics as a stoic display of strength moves and acrobatics, the sport is actually deeply bound up in psychology and emotion."
Meghan, a former gymnast herself, responds, noting the incredible adversity Kieran Behan had fought to be there on the floor at all, including a tumor, nerve damage, a freak accident. She writes, "So no, I don’t think you’re romanticizing the pain and danger of gymnastics. The tension between masochism and spiritual triumph is absolutely central to this sport... There are very few other sports that so fully dramatize that extraordinary exercise of will, which I think we all find beautiful: it’s why we watch the Olympics, isn’t it?"
Ohhhhh. The reason why people love to watch even the most obscure, suddenly-high-stakes Olympic sports is just as the O'Rourkes put it: the fever-pitched emotion, the thrilling failures, even the injustice of the very-near-misses. It's drama, is what it is: "Modern gymnastics makes you want to hide your eyes AND pick up the binoculars." And as the O'Rourkes point out, it's heightened by the fact that you can often see the reactions of the athletes' families as they succeed or fail or injure themselves or burst into tears. It's like you see the crux of a person's life, their own life story compressed, in an instant. And that is something worth taking part in.
Dr. Oz Talks to 2008 Olympic Athletes
The Spirit of the Olympics
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