Olympic expectations

Columnist Shannon McKinnon on the impressive athletes at the Olympic Games.

I am always fixated by the incredible amount of planning that goes into hosting something like the Olympic Games.

From building the venues, arranging security, ensuring the proper flags, anthems and medals are ready for presentation to keeping the washrooms stocked with toilet paper, it all boggles my brain.

Everyone has organized something, even if it’s only a child’s birthday party, so you would think we would be a pretty forgiving and empathetic bunch. But such is not the case.

The Olympic cauldron had scarcely been lit before the critics started muttering. The queen looked grouchy, the cauldron was “hidden” from view, rows of VIP seats sat empty while thousands of people desperate for tickets were turned away, and so on. Though exactly how organizers are supposed to make the queen smile or the VIPs show up to events is difficult to say.

I can never understand why countries compete to host the games. It would make more sense if the hosting job went to the country with the lowest medal count, an added incentive to win so you didn’t have to host. Personally, I would rather scarf down a bucket of rusty nails than take on something like that. God bless the organizers of the world; all those behind-the-scene volunteers who slave away so the rest of us can mutter and complain.

It’s the same thing for armchair athletes. I am as guilty of this as anyone. A gymnast sends her body catapulting through the air in twists, turns and gravity-defying flips and I find myself saying, “Her landing wasn’t as crisp as I would have liked it.” Good heavens, what is that about? I would be hard pressed to manage a somersault on the back lawn and suddenly I’m critiquing someone for not sticking her landing? I should be amazed anyone can do it at all!

A diver leaps from a 10-metre platform and I say, “Oh no! That was way too much splash on the entrance!” I should know about making a splash. I well remember going to the local pool for lessons. As a dedicated land lubber I did not share my classmates’ aquatic enthusiasms. A few lessons in we were lined up and ordered to walk to the end of the low diving board and jump. The board was only a metre above water but it might as well have been 30. The instructor held out a long pole which he pointed into the water; we were supposed to jump for the pole and, if necessary, grab it and get pulled to safety.

A classmate who found my fear of water beyond amusing was ahead of me in line. When her turn came she not only jumped without hesitation, but did a little bounce and grabbed one knee to her chest as she went, which everyone thought was too cool for words. She quickly surfaced and watched with glee as I shuffled to the edge, my eyes as big as dinner plates, doing my best not to add to the whole sorry display by bursting into tears.

I didn’t as much jump off the board as I did lunge towards the pole, my hands clutching wildly for its saving pull. The instructor, perhaps thinking to cure my fear or merely being sadistic in nature, removed the pole from the water. It was sink or swim. I did neither. My unfortunate classmate had stuck around treading water so as not to miss a second of my stellar performance. All I could see was her smirking face. I went for it like, well, like a person drowning.

Using her face like a cork, I pushed her under long enough to grab a lungful of air before she popped madly to the surface, only to have me push her down again. After our see-sawing had sufficiently amused the instructor and our peers, he reluctantly relinquished the pole. To the relief of my classmate I let go of her head and grabbed for the pole instead. I have maintained a healthy fear of water ever since. I don’t know what became of that classmate; perhaps she grew up with a healthy fear of red heads.

So how I have the gall to judge the performance of an athlete leaping from the rafters into an Olympic pool is beyond me. But gall of Olympic proportions I seem to have and then some. Ah well, as the saying goes, someone needs to stand on the sidelines to cheer when the parade goes by. Cheer, mind you, not jeer.

Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from Northern BC. You can catch up on past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com.