Monday, August 06, 2012 0 comments
Here in the woods of Wisconsin, summertime is a languid, floating thing, marked by the position of the sun, the making and partaking of meals, and the 7PM evening coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games, delivered by satellite dish. Certainly, watching another Olympics with my mom brings back lots of memories, including eating TV dinners in the living room as to not miss a moment, a special treat. I can remember so many moments of greatness, of athletes pushing past what they or anyone else thought was possible, the glorious sparkling hope of limitless potential, of knowing that everyone watching in one way or another was better for seeing it. I also can remember spilling a full glass of cranberry juice on the carpet during the ’72 Games, which ended my Living Room Eating for that year.
What I am thinking about today, though, is this: in order to be the best of the best of the BEST, do you have to be arrogant? Do you have to have a kind of super-confidence that steam-rolls everyone and everything in your path to be able to achieve at unthinkably-high levels? Does it take a belief that you are not only better, and not even BEST, but something even past that: super-human? I guess I was prompted watching Jamaica’s Usain Bolt once again win the Men’s 100-meter dash, and his reaction afterwards, saying something to the effect that he was “#1, and will always be #1.” Yes, right now, Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, with speed that is truly astounding. But someday, someone will be faster. Of course, he knows this, but is it possible that he cannot allow himself to think it at all, or something of the magic of how he does what he does will be lost? Do you need to say you are the best that ever was or will ever be and believe it completely to keep it rolling?
Super-human McKayla Maroney surely and reasonably believed what everyone said: that she was the best women’s vaulter in the world (and arguably the best vaulter, period)…until yesterday, when she fell on her butt rather like a regular human girl during her second vault, taking the silver medal rather than the very-expected gold. Her reaction was, to me, disheartening: cold wordless fury, with an inability to show any kind of sportsmanlike grace to her athletic peers or anyone else. “Suck it up, already,” I said to her image on the screen, because there are things far, far more important than winning a stinking 1st place medal, including showing humility and grace and genuine respect for her competitors. But…maybe the best of the best of the BEST cannot do this. Maybe it is too shattering to see yourself as imperfect, when your accomplishments are measured by the thinnest fractions of a point. Maybe you cannot give anything away, in order to super-fuel a super-human.