Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Moments

Okay, I'll admit it. I am the most skeptical and disconnected fair weather Olympic fan. First, it's in China, the home of state sponsored human rights violations no slick marketing campaign can make me forget. Second, handball. 'Nuff said.

This disclaimer being shared, even I can tell those elves with grins on the Chinese gymnastics team aren't even close to being 16. It's also obvious to me there's just something a little misogynistic in the uniform choices (and obvious disparities) between men's and women's beach volleyball. Check out the President's lovely photo op with one of the women's finer assets.

There have been two moments that struck a chord as to be memorable to this mama. The first surrounds the swimming freak Michael Phelps, or rather around his delightfully round and expressive mom.

He is a swimming freak. Literally God built this boy to be a swimming machine. He's the darling and mythic hero of this year's games. He wins. He wins sometimes from sheer athletic prowess and sometimes by a fingernail. Nevertheless, he wins and America loves a winner. We need a winner.

Tonight he won a seventh gold medal and tied Mark Spitz. The race was one by one one hundredth of a second. When he won, his mother went from clutching her daughter's hand to disappearing in a slump to the chair. She became invisible as the crowd cheered around her at this history making moment.

It was memorable to this mama because I can figure out what she must have been feeling. While the rest of the world was celebrating his victory, she was remembering and celebrating the journey. She was there when he made his first splash, as an infant in the kitchen sink. She was there when he wanted to quit because he couldn't break his time any faster. She was there when he moved across the country to be with his coach instead of his mama. And she was there for this moment. The beauty in the moment was that she would be there even if he came in seventh place. She would have been there if he was a pool cleaner instead of a King of the Chlorine.

The second moment came just a few minutes later. Dara Torres was stepping up to compete in the 50 meter freestyle. She's a 41 year old mother swimming in her fifth Olympics. Uncharacteristically, she deviated from her pre-race routine and went to talk with an official. She spoke with all the other competitors, many of whom could have been her daughter. It turns out she was stalling to give her fellow competitor some time to replace a ripped suit. She was delaying one of the biggest races of her life to allow someone to have the chance to beat her.

Afterwards my husband said, "You know only a mother would do that." He was right. Only a mother would take a moment to make sure everyone has a chance. Because only a mother knows that if you give someone else's baby a chance, someone will give yours one in return. She said in an interview, "In the water these women are my competitors. Out of the pool, they are my friends." They said it was an unprecedented show of sportsmanship. I say it was a show of leadership only a mother can demonstrate.

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