HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I will admit it. When my sister and I were kids, say, 8 and 5? We would do Olympic events in the living room. The couch was both pommel horse and balance beam. Much to the chagrin of my mom. It never worked very successfully. (In the winter, we would ice skate in socks on the slick wood of the hallway. That was incredibly successful, and gave me much confidence. Unfulfilled on real ice.)
We just saw a very wonderful documentary about the Boys on the Boat, the 1936 Olympics. So great.
Do you watch the Olympics? (I do.) (Pretty much.) (My station is an NBC affiliate.)
Claire Booth--whose new book THE BRANSON BEAUTY is getting amazing reviews, and so well-deserved, has some thoughts.
Go for the Gold
By Claire Booth
The Olympics start tomorrow. I can’t wait! I am a hopeless Olympic romantic. I’m in love with them. I love sports as it is, but the Olympics take my enjoyment to a whole new level. The competitions, the flags, the tears. The sappy athlete profiles from NBC.
Yes, I’m not ashamed (too much) to admit that I love the vignettes that the Peacock Network subjects us to during their Olympics coverage.
Sure they’re slick and overproduced, and sometimes overwrought, but they’re stories. Little books in miniature, where the only thing missing is the ending – how will the determined athlete do? And so of course, you watch the event and you cheer even more than you would have, because now you’re invested.
You’re kidding, she never even got in a pool until she was fifteen?! Oh my gosh, he’s come back from two broken feet to run in this race!
Say what you want about NBC, they make you care whether you intend to or not. Which is not unlike, say, a novelist.
Writers have to get you to care about the characters. They have to manipulate your emotions. If they’re really good, they make you laugh, or cry, or gasp in surprise. And they convince you to stick around for the finish.
(Billy Miles wins the 10,000 meter race at the 1964 Olympics. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps)
Sometimes, though, no matter what novelists come up with, reality beats us at our own game.
At the 1936 Olympics, an African American athlete named Jesse Owens won four track and field gold medals. In Berlin. In front of Adolf Hitler.
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response, President Carter decreed that the United States would boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. American athletes became pawns in the Cold War.
There are many more instances, of course, where real world politics mixed with the sports of the Olympics. As a former journalist, I have to admit that I follow these stories particularly closely. This year, I’m really looking forward watching the refugee team, made up of athletes from South Sudan and other war-torn nations that don’t have Olympic squads, compete.
There is always so much to learn about storytelling from real life, and there’s no better microcosm of the world today than the Olympics and its athletes.
Reds, do you watch the Olympics? Which events are your favorites? And do you sit through the athlete profiles or prefer to go straight to the action?
HANK: Summer Olympics? Gymnastics. (Nadia!) Track and field. Not so much beach volleyball.
Winter? Figure skating. I am SO predictable. (Torvill and Dean!)
And I have a t-shirt, because I work for NBC, that’s the official NBC 1980 Olympic t-shirt. Except it turned out to be an event that they did not cover.
How about you? Olympics? I give them a…9.5. (Except for that doping and cheating thing.)
And have you read Claire's THE BRANSON BEAUTY? It's a marvelous locked room--er, boat--mystery. I loved it! So much--that I'll give a copy to one lucky commenter!
Claire Booth spent more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter, much of it covering crimes so convoluted and strange they seemed more like fiction than reality. Eventually, she had enough of the real world and decided to write novels instead. Her Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series takes place in Branson, Missouri, where small-town Ozark politics and big-city country music tourism clash in, yes, strange and convoluted ways. Find her at www.clairebooth.com.
THE BRANSON BEAUTY
The Branson Beauty, an old showboat, has inexplicably crashed on the waters of the Ozark mountain lake it’s been plying for decades. Hank Worth is still settling into his new job as county sheriff, and when he responds to the emergency call, he knows he’s in for a long winter’s day of ferrying more than one hundred passengers to shore. But he doesn’t expect to find the body of a high school track star locked inside the Captain’s private dining room. Now he must navigate small town politics as he tries to figure out who killed the talented local girl.