Aug 12 2016

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Writer’s Block: Olympic Fever

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

Last Friday, the people of Rio de Janeiro ushered in one of my favorite sports spectacles, the summer Olympics, with a colorful Latino flair. A two-week long event which occurs only once every four years, this Olympiad is nonetheless one of many firsts.

It’s the first Olympics to be held in South America. It’s also the first Summer Games to be held in the middle of winter, since that’s the current season south of the equator.

But this Olympics is also a first in a smaller, more personal way because this weekend I had the good fortune to introduce the incredibleness of the Games to a couple of kids who didn’t even know they existed.

The kids are three of my second cousins, ages 9, 11 and 13, who were in town visiting from Austin. The scene was the home of one of my uncles, where he and his son-in-law  were eager to break in a new barbecue pit. With the heat and smoke from mesquite logs slowly cooking chicken quarter legs, fajitas, pork ribs and summer sausage to perfection in the backyard, we family gathered inside. There, the warm smell of Spanish rice filled the air, along with conversation and laughter from my mom, my aunt and another cousin. The kids, three rambunctious boys, were in the living room where a large TV dominates one wall.

I asked if they minded if I changed the channel to watch the Olympics, which led to the obvious question, “What’s that?”

I was a little surprised, because I’ve been a fan of both the Summer and Winter Games for as long as I can remember. Kristi Yamaguchi nailing triple-triples on the ice, Michael Johnson obliterating track records in his gold running shoes — those are the memories of past Olympics that still remain vibrant in my memory.

I’ve always been awed by watching what we humans are capable of when we’re at our absolute best. And speaking of the best, perhaps the greatest Olympian to ever compete, not just for the United States, but ever, was scheduled to swim the night of the BBQ: Michael Phelps. It was his race I was anxious to watch.

That’s how I found myself explaining competitive swimming to my three young cousins, telling them the differences in the four types of strokes used, pointing out the uniqueness of Phelps’ swimming techniques, sharing the history behind his fame.

Phelps, of course, delivered, making his leg of the 4×100 meter freestyle relay look effortless. The relay team took home gold that night. My cousins? Their eyes were almost as wide as saucers as they watched the race unfold.

Shortly after the aquatic events, the coverage shifted over to women’s gymnastics, where Team USA, the defending champs from the London Games, was making a bid to qualify for an attempt at back-to-back gold. Competition began with the balance beam. “It’s only this wide,” I told my cousins while holding my hands a few inches apart to show them how narrow the apparatus is. Seconds later, Simone Biles vaulted into the air and landed gracefully without the slightest bobble.

“I can’t even do that,” one of my cousins murmured, astounded at the strength the female gymnasts displayed during their routines.

As I gathered my things to go once the barbecue was over, one of the boys ran up to me to say goodbye. “Thanks for getting us interested in the Olympics,” he said.

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