I'm exhilarated and exhausted watching the monumental feats of the physical athletes in the Olympics combined with the mental athletes at JPL (Jet Propulsion Lab) successfully setting Curiosity on Mars. With the massive coverage of both events, it's possible not to miss a frenzied second of it all.
There are indeed similarities. Physical athletes of the caliber of the Olympics must put their brains and their bodies into overload for years. Even the youngest competitors have already been practicing for years. The brilliant JPL scientists have also been devoting many years to perfecting their knowledge of how to tackle the unknown. The faces of the many blue-shirted scientists at JPL waiting that interminable seven minutes to learn Curiosity's fate shared the same signs of physical tension as the Olympic athletes. There was worry, pacing, nervous twitches of the mouth and face. Both groups talked of how long and hard they had been working for this moment.
The mental athletes of JPL celebrated the same as the winners in the Olympics. There was hugging, high-fives all around, tears of joy, jubilation that their years of hard work had accomplished something never done before. Yet, I had a funny image in my mind of aliens watching from somewhere and laughing at the jumping for joy of naive, backward members of the earthly human race.
I've picked up some differences in the Olympics from previous years. Old records keep getting broken rather often. The bar gets ever higher. Fingernail art and tattoos are very visible, as are skimpier and skimpier attire on the athletes, some looking downright uncomfortable. Except for the divers, the bathing suits are longer, but the women swimmers seem to endlessly rearrange their suits as well as their bathing caps and goggles. This was the first time I realized they wear two bathing caps. And artistic designs of colorful tape decorate the bodies of many of the athletes. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, little rituals and movements (like the Bolt) aid in branding athletes who are in easy contact with well, everyone in the world. Of course, that can work the other way, and nasty tweets did get a few of the athletes thrown out.
The seesaw of emotions is dizzying. I've never heard so much talk before of how competing in the Olympics is so much fun and that's why they do it (up), the frustration and despair of losing (down), tears of joy and the hugging camaraderie of team competitions (up), the tears of pain, despair, defeat (down). I've noticed I'm taking the down parts harder this year because I have a lifelong tendency of siding with the underdog. I relate more this year to the agony on the faces of the parents (aren't the cameras spending more time on televising the parents?) watching their child from afar. Not only does every second count, but now even thousandths of a second can completely change the life of that young person from a superstar to an "also ran" who will live out his/her life in obscurity.
The struggles of these young people to get to the Olympics is not only a matter of talent. Some countries rigorously groom and financially support promising children from a young age to raise them as Olympians. In other countries, the financial sacrifices alone of becoming a contender are staggering. And then there are the young women who have babies during the four-year breaks and then get back into shape. Ironically, contrary to the massive advertising of Coke and McDonald's, those tight six-pack stomachs aren't made by downing poisonous Coke or chomping on Big Macs.
Retiring at 27 with titles and billions galore, Michael Phelps is now indulging a wish that I share, but can't fulfill. He wants to be able to eat anything he wants, any time he wants! We wish you well, Michael.
Comments? Email Suellen at ZimaTravels.com