The news that American gymnast Shawn Johnson will be on “Dancing with the Stars” gives us cause to dust of this Aug. 22 column in which Sports Pros(e) contributor manages to wax nostalgically about abandoned Olympic dreams and show off a picture of a life-sized, buttery Shawn Johnson she snapped at the Iowa State fair.
It’s almost be stupid if we didn’t rerun it.
BY LINDSEY MILLER Sports Pros(e) Contributor
I have always thought of the Olympics as the wimpy sports. The sports that don’t attract the stereotypical men sitting on their couches with a beer. The sports for kids and juice-the sports for non-sports fans. When I was younger, I would to settle into the soft family room couches with my family during the Olympics and we’d watch exclusively figure skating in the winter and gymnastics in the summer. Leaving, of course, whenever any other sport came on. There was even a time when I wanted to become a figure skater when I grew up-until I realized that ice sports are not entirely practical in California, where I grew up. Nor did I ever really like skating. I enrolled in gymnastics, but always enjoyed playing with the chalk and jumping in the foam pit at the end of class more than I liked flipping or balancing. Regardless of my own early failures, the Olympics contained the only two sports I actually enjoyed watching. They weren’t like the occasional long weekend afternoons I would reluctantly spend with my dad watching baseball or football, never quite conscious of which team was up to bat or which line the football was supposed to get to. Forget about all those goal posts, nets and other sweaty summer sports and snowy winter sports. I had eyes only for Michelle Kwan and Shannon Miller and the Olympics.
When I started swimming I idolized Amanda Beard, the 14-year-old Olympic breaststroker. Now at least pursuing climate-appropriate sports, I could surely become just like Amanda if I went to practice everyday and listened to everything my coach said. Or maybe I could learn to dive or ski or bike or run really fast-I started branching out my Olympics-watching schedule to include water sports, biking, track. But as I got older, and had more homework and more friends, sporadic cable and better things to do, I stopped watching. By that point, I felt I was too old to ever have a hope of reaching the Olympics with my own meager attempts at sports, anyway. What was the point of watching what I would never get to do? That’s what the Olympics were, anyway-accessible. The athletes didn’t have to be big like football players or tall like basketball players; they were average-sized people doing relatively average things, things that I did in gym class and after school. Forget about world unity and competition, this was a catalogue advertising futures and successes. So I watched sporadically, if at all: 2000, 2002, ’04, ’06.
This year marked my return. Maybe it was the usual hype that did me in, the articles about China’s air quality, the age of their gymnasts, the construction delays. Or, the fact that I no longer dream about being an Olympic athlete — I’m just too old and I have my own, more attainable, dreams to pursue. So, on opening ceremonies night, I actually settled into the couch with my roommate, her cat, and some beer. And several nights after that, too, with other friends. I didn’t watch religiously, but I caught most of the most-talked-about swimming races and a few other sports too. Still, during gymnastics, the T.V. stayed off. It didn’t feel the same watching gymnastics, not dreaming that someday I’d be tumbling across that floor too, balancing on the beam, spinning around the bars, made of butter at the Iowa State Fair…
Shawn Johnson, in all her buttery glory, at the Iowa State Fair. (Photo by Lindsey Miller)Lindsey Miller is a Chicago-based writer. Check out her blog at http://souperlindz.blogspot.com/.