We watch the Olympics because we love drama

Coach Jenny Zhang consoles U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber as she cries after failing to qualify for the women’s all-around finals during the Artistic Gymnastics women’s qualification at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 29, 2012, in London. © AP Photo by Gregory Bull.

Sunday night, I was about to turn in around 11 p.m. when I decided to stay up a few more minutes to see what Gabby Douglas was all about. She was on the cover of Time magazine and had been one of the main names that bubbled up in chatter about the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

So, I watched her performance which was good, but included a noteworthy stumble. But soon, I was immersed in the drama of Jordyn Wieber and Alexandra Raisman, U.S. teammates and friends locked in a competition for the final U.S. spot in Tuesday night’s all around finals with Douglas. Wieber, a reigning world champion, also had a noteworthy stumble in her floor routine and Raisman was fairly flawless in her performance, which propelled her into the final.

Raisman giving her victory interview to NBC while Wieber stood behind her, inconsolable, was one of the more excruciating images I have seen on TV recently, and it also exemplified why the Olympics draw us in and interest us in sports we normally do not collectively pay attention to. It is the work of a lifetime coming down to a few seconds or steps.  Even if we don’t understand the intricacies of gymnastic competition or other sports highlighted in the Olympics, we get that concept of a life’s work coming down to make-or-break moments. And for many of these athletes, this is it. Except for, say, a few sports like tennis and basketball, they don’t have the outlet of a professional championship to affirm their work. This will be the answer to “was it all worth it?”

Then there is the fascination of seeing some events we normally don’t catch in our steady sports diet of football, baseball, basketball and NASCAR.

Sunday afternoon, I found myself involved in the water polo match between the USA and Montenegro. The hour or so I devoted to watching that match was more than I ever paid attention to water polo in my life, save for times we attempted to play it in high school and college — games which usually were more about not drowning than scoring points, making it all the more fascinating to see people who could play water polo competently.

The Olympics get us and a lot of people to do things they would not normally do. Do you think Queen Elizabeth II would have appeared in a James Bond short that had her supposedly diving out of a helicopter if it wasn’t for the Olympics?

Even away from the games there is the whole #NBCfail drama boiling over on Twitter and other forums about NBCs coverage of the games. Once again, the Peacock is being plucked for showing events on tape-delay, an argument now amplified by the relative ease of getting results and even live video on the Internet, and some notable gaffes like omitting the tribute to victims of London’s 7/7 terror attack in its broadcast of the opening ceremonies.

True, NBC might need to think about how to handle these gaping time differences before the 2014 winter games in Russia (Rio 2016, fortunately, is only an  hour ahead of Eastern time), though I also have to wonder who all these people are that would be available to watch major events midday, when most of us are working.

The Olympics sort of exist as an anomaly in this world that seems to collectively favor the familiar. But they succeed because even more than that, we love drama.

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