I’ve been called, at various points in my life, a pragmatist, a pessimist, a misanthrope, a sourpuss. So I have an image to maintain. Which is why I refuse to watch the Olympics opening ceremony in the presence of others—because for the three hours it takes to move from the pomp and circumstance to the Parade of Nations to the lighting of the torch, I am an unmitigated, tender-hearted mess. I sit on my couch and I sob.
Every single cliché that Bob Costas intones over the roar of the crowd strikes me, at that moment, as irrefutable truth. It is astounding to see 10,000 athletes from 200 countries—countries large and small, countries that have been at war—march together into the stadium. Of course the Rwandan flag bearer who lost six brothers in the genocide is the pride of his nation. I agree, Bob, that memories will be made, and I can also recall 1992, when the Barcelona archer shot that burning arrow
high into the night, and my heart stopped until the cauldron caught flame, as well. Hells yeah, let’s watch the footage again.
Over the next two weeks, along with everyone else on the planet, I will be amazed at what the human body in its kinetic beauty can accomplish. But what destroys me about the opening ceremony is that, for one Olympic evening, these 10,000 super-athletes aren’t defined by a judge’s scorecard or the seconds on a clock. They don’t look especially extraordinary as they file inside. They look, more than anything, their impossibly young age: waving madly for the camera, bouncing in their seats, wearing some sort of dorky hat. Later, they’ll reveal themselves to be muscle and instinct and absolute drive. Here, like us, they’re fans.