I have Olympics Fever, but it has been years since I was infected. Growing up, we watched the Olympics as a family. My mom lifted the limits on how much TV we could take in. We found the countries in the atlas, memorized the flags, and watched in rapt attention at the athletic prowess of the competitors. The fever was contagious and particular in the novelty of only every four years for the Summer Games. The Winter Games, while beautiful with snow and ice, don’t really fill me with symptoms.
After eight years of missing them, I tune into the Rio Games. I am house-sitting and that house has a TV with reception, so I have been able to partake of the games in all their summer spectacle. I uploaded an Olympics app on my phone, so I get the notices of who has won the various medals of each event. I receive the daily e-mail newsletter from the New York Times sports reporters and editors. They send weird snippets, as much about the cultures and the background, as the competition itself. I subscribed to get texts from another New York Times reporter, who sends pictures and comments on the inane, like why the water at the pools was green and that badminton is the only Olympic sport requiring its competitors to play with their right hands. This adds to the fever.
I haven’t watched every day, but I have watched a lot. I scour the track events for runners whose names I know and read track commentary on the Runner’s World website. I cheer for all, regardless of their nationality. An Iranian woman won a bronze in taekwondo, the first female of her country to medal, with history and sport coming together in that moment. I cried and yelled in excitement for the Refugee team as they entered the Olympic stadium during the opening ceremonies. I try to ignore the soap opera of the U.S. swimmers and the story that went from “we were robbed” to something else indeed. The fever continues.
The Olympics fever, though, is not just about the chirps from my phone with updates on medal counts. It is not just about the national anthems being played during the medal ceremonies. It’s about the “sickness” while I move through my own routines. I point my toes in the morning when I stretch and get out of bed, mimicking the divers and gymnasts. As I run two or three miles, I imagine I’m an Olympic marathoner. In a speed session at the track, I am sure that I could take on the 800 meter runners. I hop on my new road bike, and all of a sudden I know that I am Kristin Armstrong (not the writer I love with the same name), winning her third Olympic gold. In the pool, when my goggles go on, I have the competition beaten, worthy of Michael Phelps or any of the other gold medalists. A hike in nearby open space turns into the awkward and yet admirable gait of the speedwalkers. Just before dinner, when I pull out my knife to dice onions, for just a moment I fence in the open air of my kitchen light shadow. I gallop like a little kid to the mailbox and immediately I transform into an Olympic equestrian.
The closing ceremonies are tomorrow night, but I expect this fever to last at least a few more days. I am sure I can twirl some ribbon, find a trampoline to bounce on, use a water gun as an Olympic shooter (now that should be an Olympic sport), and find some sand, friends, and a volleyball.
The Olympics are here and I am infected. I will enjoy the sports and dedication and training. I will ignore the commercials and the politics. I will witness elation and heartbreak. I will take the inspiration and speed up and find new fortitude in my own athletic and workout routines. As the fever dies, I will be left with solitude and silence and my own gasping breath as I swim and run and bike and compete with myself.