The Olympics end today. I'm going to miss them.
This hasn't always been my sentiment on the last day of the Games. Other years, when the Deseret News has sent me on assignment to the Olympics, I have been counting down the minutes until they extinguish the flame.
I love watching sports, but 17 days of glory is more than enough, especially when you're watching them next to some journalist who doesn't speak English and sweats a lot; it's 97 degrees, and that's in the press box; you're constantly worrying that you're missing the Big Story, and most of the time you are; you invariably get sick; and trying to interview Olympic athletes as they leave the arena just beyond your reach through something misnamed the Mixed Zone is like begging for money outside a bank.
But this year the News sent a full-on sports writer to China, Scott Taylor, who I think has done a terrific job, and who right about now, trust me, is counting down the minutes while I sit at home in front of my TV and bid the Beijing Games a fond and reluctant adieu.
Have they been great or what?
The pizza delivery was a few minutes late one night, but that's about my only complaint.
And yeah, I've muted Bob Costas a few times, but that goes with the territory.
I especially got into the Olympics this past week, when my daughter, Tori, and I watched them together. Going in, I thought Tori and me watching the Olympics was about as likely as China freeing Tibet. Tori is 16. Sports is not her TV entertainment of choice. Instead of watching the Super Bowl with me last January, she watched a "House" rerun. Her favorite shows are "So You Think You Can Dance," "America's Next Top Model," "Last Comic Standing" and some programs on VH1 and MTV she's not supposed to watch but I think she does anyway. She couldn't tell you where ESPN is if it meant a semester's exemption from algebra.
But just as the Beijing Games were entering their second week, Tori had surgery to remove bunions on her right foot, a procedure that required more bed rest than the rest of her life combined.
So her mom moved the TV from my office into her room.
Then a remarkable thing happened I can only attribute to painkilling drugs and a severely weakened condition: Tori gave me control of the remote.
And I switched from VH1 to the Olympics.
Normally this would result in our going to separate corners, but Tori wanted company, and I wanted my TV, so there we were, locked on the island together.
For a week we watched the O-Games.
For an old reformed sportswriter, it doesn't get much better. I phased out explaining math to Tori in fourth grade, but I could explain rally scoring, the difference in men's and women's gymnastics events, what the coxswain does, the importance of qualifying in the middle lanes for the sprints, why Bob Costas is overbearing ...
Everything from covering those nine Olympics came rushing out.
You name it, we watched it. Rowing, swimming, gymnastics, track and field, diving, volleyball, beach volleyball, more gymnastics, BMX racing, basketball, boxing, equestrian.
The cynic in me occasionally emerged. When Dara Torres won swimming medals at the age of 41, I couldn't help but say, "Wonder what she's using." Same with sprinter Usain Bolt. I can't watch athletic performances that look too good to be true and not think they are too good to be true. Covering Ben "Ban" Johnson in Seoul tainted me forever. When I see Bolt making the rest of the world's top sprinters look foolish, I remember Johnson making the rest of the world's top sprinters look foolish in 1988 just before he was caught using steroids.
Tori looked at me like I'd just exposed the Tooth Fairy. Again.
"You mean you think they're all cheating?" she asked.
"Well," I managed, "not all of them."
She rolled her eyes.
On the non-cynical front, I pointed out what I consider the greatest part about watching the Olympics on television greater even than the lack of crowds, air conditioning, soft seats and Cheetos whenever you want them. It is when the cameras zoom in on the winners and the losers. The expression that comes over an Olympic athlete at the moment of triumph after four years of waiting and training and hoping is as pure and unbridled as joy gets, just as the look on the face of those who come up short is a portrait of utter despair. You can see this at the stadium, from the press box, but not in the upclose detail you can see in your TV room from 10,000 miles away.
You cannot put those emotions into words, although Bob Costas keeps trying.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.