Movies give you the dramatic climax of the sports experience, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” and very little of the tiresome monotony of practice—unless, of course, it’s in some brief, musically scored montage. Sports movies are for people too impatient to commit to actual sports, people like me who never quite mastered the cartwheel in pre-school tumbling, only lasted one season on the grade-school basketball team, regularly convinced her dad to write her notes to get out of gym class.
It should be no surprise, then, that I love the Olympic Games. They offer three weeks of sports cinema, all those years of numbingly repetitious practice and toil telescoped into a few sentimental minutes of narration by Bob Costas so we can dwell on the crossing of the finish line and the tears on the medal stand. The Games, like a great sports movie, offer us a metaphor for all human endeavor, made more poignant because most of the athletes aren’t superhuman celebrities but ordinary people who committed beyond all common sense to a dream.
I have a dream too. This winter I sat in a chair every single day for six months and wrote a first draft of a book. It was boring and it often sucked and I would rather have been doing almost anything else—although when I did do something else I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would write next. And then I finished. And though nobody called me from ESPN and nobody handed me a gold medal and I remained painfully conscious of all the ways I could have done it better, I had done it. I had beaten my own record, clocked my best personal time, jumped an inch farther than I had jumped before.
It’s cheesy but it feels true. It’s the reason so many people love the Games, even people like me who hated gym.
If they can do it, maybe we can do it. Whatever it is.