Junkie

Junkies                       (Because I won’t get near trademark infringement…)

I’ll take all I can get and still want more.

I’m not an equal opportunity junkie, though. I have my favorites. First week of the summer Olympics, I go straight for the swimming coverage.

But, once I’ve plowed through all of that, every last broadcast minute of prelims, semis, and finals, I venture out across the sports world in search of other fare.

Today alone I consumed judo medal rounds for men 83kg and women 63kg, archery, team handball, boxing, and women’s weightlifting.

Oh, and men’s field hockey. I admit, I did not know that men played field hockey. And the field is a striking deep blue color. Stunning. On the field hockey page you can scroll down to a video with this title: Ever Wonder: Why is field hockey turf blue?

I had not wondered until today. Turns out, the London Olympics officials made the field blue and the ball fluorescent yellow to make the game more visually appealing to fans watching on television and in person. Seems like it worked. The field hockey governing body went on to adopt those changes. London also employed pink walls around the field and the spectator area for contrast. That did not stick.

On another note, have you watched much team handball? It’s a fascinating game played, no doubt, by fantastic athletes when one reaches the Olympic level.

Every time I watch team handball, though, I see a game neighborhood children might create with equipment near at hand and time to kill. Ball the size of a little kid’s, not right for soccer even though they have a net. No basket for basketball. Okay. Work with what you’ve got. Every time I watch it, I think, “What?”

Fast forward from the neighborhood to the Olympic games and you have tall, tall men weaving past each other on a court, executing one give-and-go after another. They try to confuse the opposition and work the ball into a potential scorer. Just make sure you don’t cross that line! If you want to get nearer the net, you need to leap from behind the line and chuck the ball past the goalie before your feet touch inside the area I like to think of as offensive no man’s land.

Come to think of it, team handball is a lot like water polo, but without the swimming or the swimsuits, or the colored caps with ear protection.

There is so much to see.

Over the weekend I watched men’s and women’s beach and indoor volleyball, rowing, cycling, and synchronized diving.

Last night while cooking dinner, we had canoe kayak on TV and my son kept asking, “What’s happening to that man’s boat?”

They ride pretty low in the water. He was worried it would sink. Also, he kept asking about the man getting out of his boat after his run, which they don’t show on television. I think maybe he wanted to confirm they had legs and not just a boat growing out of their torso.

Table tennis.

Something I see at a professional level once every four years. Those players move the kind of fast I can’t wrap my mind around. To be honest, most Olympians are doing what they do at a level baffling to us amateurs, but table tennis is something a lot of us encounter (ping pong) at such a remedial, haphazard level that it bears no resemblance beyond the basic equipment. It’s like the difference between reading a book written in ancient Greek and simply using the book to level out an uneven table leg. Same book, but…

These Olympians move so fast it reminds me of watching my cat lash out with her paw when we play kitten games with the curtain between us. I can adjust my own timing to try to avoid her claws, but I cannot react even close to fast enough once she actually moves. Her speed is uncanny. Likewise, I can barely see the table tennis ball as it zips between paddles and table, but these men and women react and move with practiced speed that bleeds into a kind of otherworldly grace.

There is more to watch, more events to stream, so I move to the next fix and the next.

What is my fascination with the Olympics?

I think it is bred into swimmers to appreciate the quadrennial masterpiece that is a global coming together for sport. Channels are flooded with sports programming and many of the hours are sports that get little to no mention or coverage outside of these two weeks. Remember the last time you saw double trap shooting on Sports Center? Me neither.

The Olympics junkie lifestyle is not sustainable in the long term. Sleep suffers. Luckily, I can commit two weeks to this fix and then step away. The end will come soon and it will leave behind a bitter longing as the games have also filled me with so many glimpses into sport’s ideals of commitment, performance, and putting everything on the line for passion and team.

The closing ceremonies mark an end and point the way forward. One can be both full and empty.

Luckily, our college season starts soon. Athletic drive and team culture continue. I’ll move forward still immersed in all that is great in sport. The people, the work, the magic moments that make up a season.

And time will fly until the next big fix. The Winter Olympics are only 545 days away…

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