My Story of the Olympics

Pretty much everyone has story of what they watched of the Olympics, although many of those may be "I didn't watch any of it," or "I just saw the highlights on the news." Given that I can occasionally be heard (gently) mocking fans of commercial sports teams, it's ironic that every couple years I become sports-obsessed for two weeks. I thought that COVID-19 should have prevented the Tokyo Olympics from happening ... but if they were going to run the games, I was going to watch.

One of the first things I noticed was who I was cheering for. Because it wasn't just Canada: it was also Korea (because I visited Seoul recently and really liked the place) and Japan (I've been there recently, and they were the host nation). And ... because I'm Canadian, I cheered any team that was playing against the United States.

The next question was, which events would I enjoy this year? It changes slightly every time. I've always liked the Track Cycling events, and now that option has expanded with the inclusion of the bizarre and rather wonderful Omnium races (the crashes were not wonderful). I sampled pretty much everything: Archery and Air Rifle shooting are bizarrely mesmerizing, although not very much happens. Soccer has always been too long and low-scoring for me (although I celebrate the Canadian women's team's win). 3X3 Basketball has potential. And Rugby Sevens - that's pretty cool, even if Canada didn't figure heavily in it.

A big draw of the Olympics is the human drama: it's a very hopeful event, with everyone showing up at their physical peak and with the best of intentions. There's heartbreak aplenty (somebody's got to lose) and injuries (France's Bassa Mawem fairly literally breaking his bicep in the climbing preliminaries didn't look like much, but was shudder-inducing when you stop to think about it ...). But then there are the golds, and everyone's favourite (including me) was probably the men's high jump. Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar both had exactly the same record on the jumps - not just heights, but numbers of attempts. The official came to them proposing they have a sudden death jump-off, and these two tired guys looked at each other and Barshim asked if they could have two golds. I loved the reply: "This is possible." But what most people will remember, and we've all been seeing on the news clips since, is Tamberi's flying hug of Barshim. It was a good decision all around, and a really lovely moment.

But the real story of the games? Janja Garnbret. Wait, I mean "Sport Climbing." But ... Janja Garnbret. You could go over to YouTube and watch some footage of her climbing ... but to truly understand why one of her competitors said she wanted to go to the Olympics "to see Janja Garnbret climb," you have to watch some footage of the other (world class) athletes attempting the same bouldering walls Garnbret would later climb (I highly recommend the entire women's bouldering qualifications). You need to see other world-class climbers failing repeatedly on these very difficult walls ... and then watch Garnbret come out, assess the wall for 15 seconds, and then stroll up it on the first attempt. She's in a category of her own.

Sport Climbing at the Olympics this first time had three sections: Speed Climbing, Bouldering, and Lead Climbing. Garnbret isn't good at speed, but through the luck of the draw and the odd scoring system, she did surprisingly well. But then she proceeded to wipe the floor with everyone else in the two other categories and get the Gold medal - as well she should have.

As of 2021-08-09 it's not too late to watch or skip through the full events on CBC:

As mentioned above, I particularly recommend "Climbing - Women's Prelims," and going to the middle section, which is Bouldering. I expect this link will die in a few weeks? We'll see.

I celebrate Penny Oleksiak, Damian Warner, Andre De Grasse, Maude Charron, the Canadian women's soccer team, and all the other Canadians. ... but ... Janja Garnbret.