Sunday, August 7, 2016


When watching as much of the Parade of Nations as I could on Friday---I was up early, so I could barely make it to Estonia---I couldn't help but smile at the sheer joy displayed by many of the athletes, so thrilled to be in Rio, on a worldwide stage.

You didn't see it on all of the athletes' faces, of course. Some faces you couldn't see, because their cellphones were blocking their faces entirely as they took selfies, turning the Opening Ceremony into an Opening Selfimony. Others were very serious-minded, and were already scoping out the competition. Since the China team has to stand around about twenty minutes longer than we do, that may lead to Wan Li losing about .0128 of a second on the relay next Monday.

I think about the guys from small countries, countries whose entire population could be dropped into Brooklyn without making a noticeable change in population density*, and how they managed to make it into the Games. You'll see a team of three with maybe a wrestler, a pole vaulter, and a tennis player. Why not a weightlifter? Someone in the country had to be the nation's best weightlifter. Did they only have enough dough for three plane tickets?

I'm sure many of them compete very hard, as hard as they can, even if they know they have no chance of getting on the podium. Some of them, though, you have to think, knowing that they're outclassed, just wangle a trip to the Olympics as a means to hang out and whoop it up with other young, physically attractive people. So, a couple of false starts on the 200 m, a pretend-throw on the javelin or shot put, and it's caipirinha time!

At least, I think that's something I would have considered as a callow youth in that situation. Only as I got older, much too old for athletic competition (assuming I was ever athletic), did I come to believe in the importance of personal and national honor, qualities that would have forced me to do my best even though I was hopelessly outmatched,

I used to give up a lot. Back then my idea of personal honor was just not to embarrass myself too much. Guess what? I didn't succeed in that, either.

*37,137 people per square mile 

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