I am not much of an Olympics watcher. There was a time when I was interested in track, primarily because I had run the 100 yard dash – now the 100 meter sprint – and the broadjump – now the long jump – in Highschool. But also because I went to college in southern California and southern California was a hotbed of track in the 50s and early 60s, the “Golden Age” of track and field . In those days all track was amateur, or club track – so the athletes were paid under the table – and the spectators at a meet sat very close to the participants. Close enough to hear the runners talk, to see them sweat in the hot October sun; close enough to feel part of it.
Because I had seen enough track to know the athletes, I was pretty disdainful of the Olympics where, it seemed, the spectators were the amateurs, really didn’t know the players, and were only there for the spectacle, not the track. However, I did have a chance to go to one major, Olympic level, meet. It was 50 years and two months ago, in June of 1962 when the Cold War was at its height, and it was between the the United States and The Soviet Union at Stanford Stadium. I still remember the Highjump duel: it had started earlier in the day but was still going on at the end of the day and by then everything else was over. All that was left were 70,000 hushed fans watching U.S. champion, John Thomas and the Soviets’ Valery Brumel – who was the best in the world – go toe to toe. Then it was only Brumel going for a world’d record. When he cleared 7′ 5″, the place went wild.
But this years, I got dragged into watching Women’s Gymnastics and, now I am watching some Women’s Beach Volleyball. My first thought is it should be Girls’ Gymnastics and Women’s Beach Volleyball. The Beach Volleyball players are women, the gymnasts seem to be girls trying to be glamorous. That does not mean that they aren’t great athletes, they are, and what they are doing verges on the impossible.
But I keep remembering my dad saying that women don’t become interesting until they were at least 30 or 40 and, I guess, I have internalized that. The women volleyball players just seem to have more gravitas, to be playing for higher stakes.
The biggest surprise in the Women’s Beach Volleyball – WBV from now on – is that the Chinese women did so well in chaotic situations. That is the opposite of what I have been told to expect. In the semi-final, between the Americans and the Chinese there were atleast six times when the rally went on, and on, and on, losing any semblance of a set play and deteriorating into chaos. In that chaos, I expected the American to dominate, but the Chinese won four of the six long rallies. The first four, it is true, with the Americans winning the last two which, hopefully, points to a learning curve, but still a surprise.
One more thought, a question, really. Why are there no old gymnasts and why are there no young Volleyball, players.