Monday, August 18, 2008

The human drama of athletic competition

People of a certain age tend to associate the Olympics with ABC's Wide World Of Sports, because so many sports we now see only every four years used to appear on our televisions regularly on Saturdays -- gymnastics, diving, weightlifting. Everybody remembers the "agony of defeat" guy in the program's opening; the web is full of tributes to Vinko Bogataj, the ski jumper whose wipeout was featured week after week. But I remember just as vividly the close-up of a gymnast's face as she grimaced with her chin on the balance beam, her legs arching back over her head until her feet were at eye level. A quick googling turns up nothing about her identity.

Of course, those of us who watched Wide World (and its lighthearted Sunday cousin Superstars) also grew up with a decidedly skewed idea of what counts as a sport. Cliff diving? Motorcycle jumping? The Harlem Globetrotters? Check, check, check. I imagine that Jim McKay and Keith Jackson would have been right on top of the Olympics' recent flirtation with "junk sports": trampoline, rhythmic gymnastics, synchronized diving.

Not that I don't watch all those with fascination -- hey, I couldn't do it, and it sure is fun to listen to Bart Conner pretend that he knows what makes for a good "tramp" routine -- but you can't help but feel like the athletes in those sports are the ones who couldn't quite cut it in their older, more respectable traditions.


doafy said...

Oh my lord, you just dissed synchro diving. I have been eating that stuff up this year! Shame on you!

Missy said...

I believe that was Olga Korbut on the beam. I recall trying to copy that move on my living room floor. I was a flexible kid, but not that flexible.

the secret knitter said...

Yeah, when did trampoline become an Olympic sport? It was news to me. Also, it would be nice if NBC would have given some evening coverage to archery than some of the other filler. I caught one of the finals and thought it was pretty interesting.