I am not an athlete. I barely even follow sports.
But when the Olympics roll around, I am suddenly energized and dialed in to whatever different competition is going on. I may have never heard of the athlete before, but plop them into a gold medal race, and I’m a FAN. I get very tense while watching. It’s a little ridiculous.
Here are my two favorite experiences with following sports*, plus a bonus third that I wasn’t yet alive to witness:
*despite whatever ensued in the aftermath
1) The summer of 1998 as Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals chased the home run record. It seemed like every night I would hear my dad call from the family room, “McGwire went yard!” and the rest of us would come rushing into the room to watch the instant replay of his homer and to marvel as that home run tally increased one by one. It was the summer before my junior year of high school, and I remember feeling so American. Shoulda slapped some cherry pie in my hands as I watched that summer, watched and hoped and dreamed of that elusive record, this race drawing back fans after the recent strike.
2) The 2008 Beijing Olympics as Michael Phelps pursued 8 golds in 8 events. Day after day returning to the Beijing National Aquatics Center to watch whatever magic Phelps would unfold. I remember the 4×100 relay where Phelps had to rely on Jason Lezak’s anchor leg swim to come from behind to secure that gold. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I remember the night that Phelps beat Cavic by .01, and I was on my feet and my eyes fooled me. One-hundredth of one second is a tie to human eyes but means the difference between silver and gold to a computer. This time it was me who would yell to Desiree from the living room, “Phelps is about to race!” and she’d run in to join me, and we’d watch the stars and stripes rise above the others once and then over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
3) The 1973 Belmont Stakes. My dad would refer to this race as “the greatest moment in sports,” and if you watch the race, it would be hard for you to argue with that assessment. When I watch the race, my heart just about explodes with pride as Secretariat, the powerful horse with the huge heart, pulverizes his competitors, winning the race by 31 lengths. “Secretariat is widening now … he is moving like a tremendous machine.” Toward the end of the race, it appears that there are two races instead of one: Secretariat running his own, and all the rest battling a second so far behind. The other horses weren’t even in the film shot as Secretariat finished the race. That is power. It’s overwhelming to see.
What are your favorite moments in sports?