I understand and appreciate the appeal of the Olympics. At its best, athletic competition is the purest form of drama. Long ago, someone once described the rivalry between the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons of nothing less than the struggle between good and evil. He was intentionally being hyperbolic, but after working in a sports marketing firm I can tell you that commercialized sports is the only place where I’ve seen the face of evil up close and personal.
I’d like to think that the Olympics has retained something resembling purity, but I’ve seen too much of the world to know that’s not the case. Still, buried deep somewhere, it’s the striving for something resembling perfection that I relate to, and in those rare moments when I find myself watching some sport, and the thought of endorsement deals, or a stint on Dancing with the Stars is nowhere in anyone's thoughts, I do occasionally manage to catch a glimpse of that purity and then my own cynicism kicks in as I greedily want to devour that purity and hoard it for myself.
I suppose it’s a mark of achievement that I know who Shaun White is, although I doubt he would see it as a very high achievement. At thirty-five years old – THIRTY-FIVE!- he has made his last bid for the Olympic gold.
White finished in fourth place as he fell on the final run of a career that’s seen the American star win three Olympic titles. He lifted up his goggles and waved to the crowd on his way down the halfpipe. He was in tears as the sparse crowd bid adieu to the 35-year-old and fellow riders lined up to hug him.
“I’m honored to be here,” White said. “I’d like to thank the competitors for crushing it, and putting me in my place, this old guy hanging on.
“It’s my last day ever. It’s so weird to say.”*
If you’re lucky enough to live long enough, you can rack up a few last days. Oftentimes you’re not aware that the last is the last, and there’s a blessing in that. But when you do feel the page turning, there’s an exhilaration that tempers any sadness. If you’ve been compelled to seek perfection in one arena, that compulsion doesn’t leave you. It might evolve into something a bit more mellow or intensify into an obsession. If nothing else, that compulsion sparks hope. If you’re lucky.
* Pat Graham, U.S. News, 2/11/22