Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Fire and Water: American Arrogance Outside the Pool

Like most of the rest of the world, I'm glued to my TV in the evenings, watching the Olympics. Every two years (Winter and Summer games alternate) my bottom grows roots while I delight in the heroic physical feats of the world's best athletes. They're sweating and suffering and I'm just chillaxing away. Sometimes I foam roll while I watch, just to break up the sloth.

Last night, Michael Phelps won his 20th AND 21st gold medals. The man is a machine. The 200m butterfly competition included a side dish of intense public rivalry and trash talk outside the pool. Yummy! South African Chad le Clos has been goading Phelps over this particular race. He bested Phelps in 2012 to win gold in this event. Apparently avenging this loss was part of reason Phelps came out of retirement to swim again in Rio.

For some insane reason, le Clos thought it was a good idea to stir the pot with Phelps, to rub it in that he won last time and challenge Phelps to another duel. Yes, challenge the greatest swimmer (athlete, maybe?) of all time.

People, this is never a good idea. Michael Phelps is an amazing physical specimen. I'm sure he trains very hard to be as good as he is, but he is also genetically gifted. His wing span is ridiculous. He is a machine.

But sports at this level is not just about the body, it's also about the mind, and Phelps is all about the mind game. I remember he sat down with Bob Costas during one of his previous four Olympics and talked about how he psyches himself up before a race. He explained to Costas that he imagines slights from other athletes. Another swimmer might glance in his direction, and Phelps will take affront in his own mind and nurture the 'grievance,' for hours, days, weeks, months before the race. He will work himself up into an embittered frenzy and unleash his fury in the pool. Seriously, he said he does this. Yikes.

Phelps won last night's race decisively, earning is 20th Olympic gold medal. He relished in his victory, perched atop the lane divider, he urged the crowd to bring on the praise.

As for le Clos, he finished fourth, and NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines offered sage advice--"Don't poke the tiger." Words to live by.

Sadly, and unsurprisingly, Twitterland erupted with heaping shame and humiliation for le Clos. We Americans do many things well, but increasingly, tact, kindness and graciousness are nowhere on the list. We've always been chided as an arrogant people, and it seems to reach new heights everyday. Honestly, I fear for my country. Phelps has earned the right to be proud and maybe a little smug, but the rest of us? The armchair/foam roller athletes? No. Sorry.

Of course, I'm happy for Michael Phelps, but I can't help but feel sorry for le Clos. Poor guy. He's eating a massive slice of humble pie, and apparently BOTH his parents have cancer?! Good grief. Let's all give the guy a break. I just don't have the stomach or the steely heart for great athletic feats, let alone the physical capacity.

I'll just go back to my foam roller.

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