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Olympic fever dominates the tube

Don Rogers

The television has flickered to life this past week. The kids, especially, are watching all the time. At least when they are home. The Olympics, you know.Other than studying the U.S. basketball team as it dropped a close one Saturday to Lithuania, I’ve been strictly a spot watcher.The family hollers and I hustle down the hall from my computer just in time to see, say, Paul Hamm fall nearly clean off the vaulting mat and down to 12th place during the all-around gymnastics competition, later clawing his way all the way back to gold. Or a women’s swimming relay team dominate unexpectedly. Carly Patterson pull a Hamm and then perfect her own way to gold out of a hole. Women’s beach volleyball (who’s keeping score?). Phelps and Peirsol. Amanda Beard. The sprinters, discus hurlers, some female decathlon competitors, including a lady from Sweden who exhorts her countrymen and whoever else in the crowd she can fire up as she works her long jump.Water polo, team volleyball, trampoline. Trampoline? And we’re only halfway through.The kids and their mother are watching a lot of it. Evenings now after school. Saturday during home chores.Funny, I thought I was the only one in this family who watched sports on television. The Olympics have turned our viewing habits on their head. As they always do.I’m ever so slowly straying from a lifetime as a traditional sports fan. At middle age, I barely watch baseball and generally have better things to do than catching football games. (Snowboarding comes to mind.) But somehow – osmosis, I figure – I still know batting averages and league standings and all that. But I’m done following these sports closely. I swear. Basketball, for whatever reason, still fascinates, alas. I can’t quite shake free. Maybe this is because I played in high school and returned to the sport a few years ago after nearly two decades away from the court in favor of sailboat racing, surfing, firefighting and those golden years of watching and coaching the boy in one youth league or another.He’s turned on me, the rat. Forsaken the sports I’d tried to groom him to take up in high school. None of the traditional glamor games for him. He’s into his third year of cross country running, nordic skiing and track. The pain sports. His eighth-grade sister shows every sign of following the same path. Actually, that’s fine with us, the parents who must endure these throes of adolescence from a whole new vantage. The more pain the better. Bone tired after practice? Great. Just so the homework gets done.What’s this got to do with watching the Olympics? Well, the Olympics are a veritable celebration of the pain sports, as well as obscure games. Softball is more interesting than baseball, swimming more exciting than basketball, gymnastics more prestigious than tennis. Every four years, this upwelling occurs. The still nominally amateur events take center stage. And nothing is bigger than track and field. I overhear the boy tell his sister, “our” sports are next week. She nods. The mile and up interests them, the longer the run the better. This is prime time for them, like college basketball’s March Madness or the NBA playoffs for me. The “must see” stuff.I confess I’m more interested because they are interested. It’s a reversal from when they were little and Daddy and his games were god. (Pastors, please observe the little “g.”) Now distance running reigns, and I figure it could be worse. A lot worse. And if the TV flickers to life for dedicated sports watching every four years, or two years if you consider the Winter Games, well, these kids will be all the healthier for it.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com


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