Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

1992 Olympics: real life lessons

I've got to do something to justify all the time I spent watching the Olympics. Like write a column.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the Olympic TV coverage.

It was a devil’s bargain. NBC held me hostage for all their commercials. They were artists. It would take forever to get to the conclusion of an event where they artificially could manipulate time. They broadcast as if the events were live.

As a viewer, I was willing to suspend my belief to participate in the drama. I would be jolted back to reality by the insertion of interminable commercials, background stories of the participants, Spanish and Barcelona cultural features, and the simultaneous coverage of several athletic events.

The TV producers created suspense and then left me dangling. I felt ripped off. But I stayed. They got me but I didn’t like it. I’m glad the 1996 Olympics will be held in Atlanta. That way the Olympic events will be broadcast in real time.

TV producers did their share to hype certain events and to create high expectations. When an athlete failed to achieve these high expectations, some interviewers would try to get the Olmypians to talk about their disappointment and failure.

I liked it when they answered, “I’m happy with my medal,” or, “I’m just happy to be here. This is an experience of a lifetime.”

I didn’t like the medal counting and the “U.S. vs. the world” hype,

The Olympics are about athletes from all countries. Where were their interviews, their anthems, their stories, their thrill of victory and agony of defeat?

Do we need all the “stars and stripes” coverage to feel good about ourselves?

The Olympics are a spectacle and TV allows us to participate. Here are some of the special scenes I liked.

The opening and closing ceremonies were breathtaking. These are big time productions, grand and epic beyond compare. The pride of the host country is on display.

The pageantry tells the story of our common humanity and unity. The Olympic ideals are extolled. The athletes march, mingle and celebrate. Sports bring us together.

I liked Bela Karolyi’s coaching of his two athletes. Kerri Strug and Kim Zemeskal on the vault when only the winner would advance to the all around competition.

He put his all into his coaching each athlete and was visibly thrilled by their successful performances. To the outward eye, I couldn’t tell any favoritism. I was impressed.

Svetlana Bogenskaya of the Unified Team wrapped her arms around her teammate Tatyana Gutsu when it appeared her teammate wouldn’t advance to the finals.

No words were exchanged. Just the power of touch to comfort a grieving friend. It was beautiful to see.

Later, when Svetlana shed her own tears of disappointment after her balance beam final, there were no comforting arms for her. Perhaps her friend was too young to reciprocate.

It seemed the American gymnasts were too competitive to cheer each other’s successes and comfort each other’s failures.

The British sprinter Derek Redmond pulled up lame with a hamstring pull midway in the 200 meter race. He got up and in obvious pain started hopping his way to the finish line.

His father came from the stands to help his son. He had waved aside all others but accepted his father’s help. Together they made it to the finish line. Then the son in the arms of the father let loose his torrent of grief.

He has more than gold. He has a father.

I enjoyed the artistry and perfection of the Chinese divers. Mark Lenzi of the U.S. was terrific. To watch the divers and the gymnasts was to watch perfection in action. Yet the distance between success and a belly or back flop was minuscule.

In swimming, the difference between success or failure was determined by milliseconds. One doesn’t achieve that degree of perfection without dedication and hard work.

There are more important things in life than perfect dives and perfect gymnastic routines.

If we choose our goals carefully and are willing to sacrifice, we can have what we want. We will have to have our share of belly flops and hard landings to get to where we want to be.

Boxer Eric Griffen had a different kind of hard landing. Life isn’t always fair. He lost because of a flawed computerized scoring system. Nothing could be done.

For Eric and ourselves, there will be another day, hopefully one in which we set bitterness aside and go on. One of the lessons of the Olympics, and in life, is how we handle adversity and defeat.

TV brought the Olympics into our living rooms. The world is a little smaller and better for it. It was good.

Now it’s time to get back to the real world with real world goals and adversity and, gratefully, real time.