originally on nycmomsblog, summer 2008
I was watching the Olympics from my hotel room in Florida and noticed a guy named Keith Beavers from Canada preparing to jump in the water to swim in some competition that ultimately resulted in Michael Phelps winning another gold. This Beavers guy had an Olympic Rings tattoo on his bicep (or tricep?)--somewhere on his upper arm. He clearly got this tattoo in excitement about participating in the Olympics. You go guy. Good work, must have been a long hard road to get here, etc. etc. etc. Of course, the race began and he was in lane 2 and he ended up coming in 8th and it's hard NOT to watch and think--hmmm, kinda slow.
Of course this guy's not slow! Of course he's an incredible talent. But we'd just been shown this piece about Michael Phelps' 'genetic superiority' (a phrase that made me cringe as they broke down his parts, "dinner plate sized hands," size 14 feet that "may as well be flippers," the legs of an average man, the torso of a really tall guy...)--and, frankly, everyone else seemed kind of regular after that. Even the guy who ended up being the 8th fastest 200 meter individual medlier in the world.
Which is why I'd like to propose the Average Joe Lane.
How slow do the other swimmers look when the winner blows past them to the finish? Michael Johnson used to make the other guys look like they were stuck in mud or like they thought the race was over half way before they got to the finish line. You kind of felt bad that they even showed up. And let's face it, the guys in the outer lanes in the swimming pools look like they're just there as filler. Wouldn't it help put things in perspective (for all of us couch potatoes, eating York Peppermint Patties while watching the Olympics) to see how fast the average guy could run? swim? I don't know...throw a shotput?
I'm not suggesting that there be regular guy lanes in all the events. It clearly wouldn't make any sense in gymnastics--though it could be awfully entertaining. I've heard that the average American can do zero chin-ups. Does that mean that for every American who can do one there are about a dozen that can't do any and for every American that can do twenty there are two thousand that can't do one? (I'm in the can't do any category, by the way. Full disclosure, and all that.) I imagine an average American guy attempting to do the rings in the gymnastics competition and basically just hanging there from the rings yelling 'ouch' the whole time. I suppose watching Meredith Viera flop around on the gym equipment at Chelsea Piers while Shawn Johnson looks on supportively and amused comes close, but again, I don't need any help realizing how difficult those balance beam moves must be. I get it. I can't even stay on the tightrope in the wii fit game. It's hard, we know.
I am suggesting there be a regular guy lane in any sport with lanes. Any straight up race, that'd be a good place to start. Let's say the lane had a sponsor; we could have the Starbucks Average Joe Row, or the Doritoes Regular Dude Ditch. My sister came up with the La-Z-Boy Lazy Guy Lane. That has a nice ring to it. People could win the chance to be in the lane by tearing off labels or scratching off that silver film with a penny.
Perhaps the Average Joe could be plucked from the crowd minutes before an event. It's important that there be no opportunity to train for it. Average Joes finding out they were about to board a plane to China would be given a pretty broad packing list (swim suit, sneakers, sports bra...) and it would be great if the person could have average measurements or something. But that might be asking too much.
As much as I've been into watching these Olympics (and I never think I will be, it always sneaks up on me), it's not the gather-the-family 'round the tv opportunity I'd hoped it would be since the time difference with Beijing puts all the fun stuff on way after the kids have gone to bed. Having an Average Joe lane would really change it I think. It would, at least, make that Beavers guy seem more deserving of those rings on his arm.
In one swimming event, the announcer said about one of the faster women she doesn't like to do the hard work if she doesn't have to (explaining some rare necessary surge on her part). Hey, me neither! That's why I'm not an athlete, that's why I'm not in the Olympics. I'm like that swimmer, I tell myself, as I pop another snack into my mouth.
See? It's really really easy to sit and watch and feel kind of like 'maybe I could do that if I liked doing hard work.' And it's thoughts like that, coupled with my thinking that the 8th fastest guy in the world is a little slow, that make me realize that I could use a little perspective.
From my couch, in my air-conditioned hotel room, on my beach vacation, far from anything that resembles hard work.
7 years ago