Author: Campbell, Bruce

Grand Olympic Opry
Yeah, Iím watching the Olympics. I always watch the Olympics. You can kvetch all you like about the state of amateur athletics, with the doping and judging scandals, but itís still gripping drama. Itís such a natural thing, to compete, and itís just as natural to take pride in the group you represent. Since we first walked upright, weíve wanted to see who could the fastest and jump the highest. And swim the most synchronized, I suppose.

If you donít get a lump in your throat when one of our athletes steps on the podium to accept a medal, and places his or hand on the heart during the playing of our national anthem, well, youíre missing some important pieces.

Itís not just jingoistic, either. When some country gets their first medal ever in an event, or any athlete overcomes some extraordinary odds to just reach the Olympics, much less medal, itís a compelling story, too. Itís all really just the extreme example of what we all should strive for: to be the best we can be. Itís a tale we can all identify with. (Mr. Varner, please forgive the dangling preposition Ė I only do it every 4 years).

In 1972, I was inspired by Mark Spitzís amazing Olympic performance in Munich. So I joined the swim team in m freshman year of high school, with the goal of reaching the Olympics in 1980. I was determined and I was motivated. I swam every day. I swam a mile each morning before school, and practiced each afternoon after school. It seemed to me that the Olympics were inevitable for me. I had a cousin who was a gifted swimmer, so I figured I even had genetics on my side.

It turns out there is yet another important requirement for Olympians Ė they tend to be athletes. I trained hard, I got in shape, but I was no athlete. I was a very good swimmer, but I was not a very fast swimmer. My dreams were dashed pretty quickly. I stuck it out for the whole season, but the best I mustered was a third place on a relay. My parents came to watch me at a swim meet, and afterwards, my mother said ďYou swam very well, dear! But why were you swimming so slow?Ē In the 400 yard freestyle, they timed me with a calendar, not a stopwatch.

What did I get out of this endeavor? I learned how to swim well, which is a good skill. I learned to appreciate what a gift athleticism is. They have bodies that allow them to marry grace and conditioning into a neat package that exceeds the sum of its parts. Itís not just this muscle or that, but all of those, and the way they all work together. Couple that with determination and a competitive verve, and itís pretty amazing. They all held me in great contempt because I couldnít do the things they took for granted.

But you know what? They couldnít play guitar, and I could. In music, I had found some thing that I could apply myself to, and my skills would respond nicely to the attention. I wasnít running any races, but thereís an inner competition in learning to play music that can provide a lifetime of satisfaction. Itís not that I chose the easy path Ė any musician has setbacks and frustrating challenges, not unlike the trials and defeats athletes go through. I know Iíve never applied myself or given the devotion that the Olympic athletes do, but even smaller challenges can be interesting.

I guess the Olympics are the Grand Ol Opry of sports, then.

2009 Olympics in Grass Valley
Posted:  8/13/2008

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