As a sports writer raising three adorable, princess-loving daughters with a wife whose interests fall far from the sports world, I’ve had more than a few people chuckle as they suggest my life would make good fodder for a blog or sitcom.
Truth be told, I kind of like this setup. I get to leave my work at work. When I get home, nobody asks about the event or story just as they probably wouldn’t inquire if I’d been underwriting loans all day. Without that separation, I think sports would oversaturate my life and I’d lose perspective about their role and importance.
Still, part of me was hoping the Olympic Games would temporarily change that. And they did, in such a wonderful way. And for that, I wanted to say thank you.
For 17 days my house has been treated to impromptu gymnastics performances, “beach” volleyball demonstrations on the carpet in their playroom, medal ceremonies complete with singing of the full national anthem and hours of watching events from swimming to kayaking to running to whatever it is the fancy horses were doing, and most everything in between.
We haven’t made it to the pool yet to try out the synchronized swimming moves they've picked up, but that will happen soon.
I’ve enjoyed hilarious commentary from my 7-, 6- and (especially) 4-year-old girls. They found the little camera that scoots down the runway during the vault to be comedic gold. They concluded that the backstroke had to be hardest swimming event because you couldn’t see where you were going. And they were astonished that Olympic swimmers could get away with hanging on the ropes that separate the lanes after their races; the girls know that behavior is strictly forbidden at our neighborhood pool.
Before breakfast one day, the three girls marched into the kitchen and in unison declared that they were the “Final Five.” They then chanted it over and over, just as Aly, Gabby, Laurie, Madison and Simone (it’s a first-name basis with them at our house) had done the night before.
More than the dominant performances by the U.S. (and particularly the U.S. women), I’ve enjoyed exposing them to the sportsmanship of teammates cheering each other on, even while competing, and to the grace with which athletes have responded to their own mistakes.
I was hoping this is how things would go.
My sister turned 9 the summer Mary Lou Retton vaulted to a perfect 10 and onto posters all over her bedroom. To this day, I’m guessing there’s nothing in the world that would leave my sister more tongue-tied and awestruck than a chance meeting with Mary Lou. My sister went on to become a fantastic gymnast and was a standout member of a college dance team. Needless to say, those 1984 Olympics had a lasting impact. I wasn’t expecting the Rio Games to leave an imprint quite that large in my household, but I was hoping they would at least capture my family’s interest. I was fortunate to have an awesome wife willing to lay to groundwork to help make it happen.
All summer, my wife has been leading our girls on a tour of countries, guided by the “Eat Your Way Around the World” cookbook. Long before the Opening Ceremonies, they had spent a few days immersed through books, crafts, videos and homemade cuisine into the cultures of Canada, China, England, Germany, India, Iran, Israel, Mexico and others, with Brazil marking the final stop. So when teams from those countries marched into the stadium, there was an extra sense of excitement that came with that familiarity.
My girls take dance and gymnastics classes, so having the gymnastics portion of the competition so early in the Games helped grab their attention. Then, as they were introduced to new sport after new sport, curiosity took hold.
Prior to this, the extent of my sports watching with my family had been limited to many, many Royals games, to which they’ve largely been good sports but not overly involved (with the exception of the World Series) other than identifying which team was which and reporting the score. They watch the Super Bowl, but that’s more about the event, food and commercials than sports. And besides that, for two of the past three I was in press boxes in New Jersey and Santa Clara instead of in my living room watching with my family.
I’m so grateful that Rio was able to pull off these games without a hitch. I can only imagine the heartbreak that parents endured when explaining the events of the 1972 Games in Munich with their kids. Here, there was none of that. My daughters saw representatives from different countries coming together simply to compete. Nothing more. I hope it will always be like that.
I’m also happy to live in an age of the NBC Sports Olympic app that can stream on our TV. Live TV that late at night didn’t really work for us with the start of the school year, but this allowed us to pick and choose what and when we watched. What’s more, we can continue watching the many events we haven’t yet seen. Spoiler alerts aren’t really an issue in our family, so in the coming weeks we can tune into sport after sport from Rio as if it were live.
If you haven’t seen a Pixar or Disney movie in a while, you might be impressed with what you find. I gladly admit to enjoying “Frozen” and “Tangled” and many others. “Zootopia” was definitely the best movie I saw this summer (so what if it happened to be among the only movies I saw along with "The Jungle Book" and "Finding Dory"). And you can throw on a classic like “The Sound of Music” or “Annie,” and I won’t complain. In our house, if the TV is on, it’s usually showing one of those movies or “Sesame Street” or “The Electric Company.” This is all fantastic. I wouldn’t trade a bit of it.
But for a few memorable weeks, I’ve really enjoyed being part of the captive audience watching the greatest athletic competition in the world. And I’ve especially loved experiencing it as a dad with my family.
For that, I say thank you to the Olympics, and thank you to Rio.