Winning Gold in Olympic Swiveling
Tonight's cuppa: Decaf Irish breakfast tea, chased with adrenaline
Days ago, I had set my DVR to record all the Olympic coverage I could find listed on Oxygen, which carried most of the equestrian competitions (I explained earlier why I love the horse sports). Thanks to erroneous on-screen TV listings (not supplied by my company, but by another), a two-hour block listed as "Summer Olympics" turned out to be "The Tyra Banks Show" and paid programming.
I'd missed the show-jumping team finals on Monday. Not happy. Not happy at all. I hadn't sat through what seemed like a billion Olympic beach-volleyball matches to miss the finals in my nearly favorite equestrian sport (tied with Thoroughbred racing).
So, there I was tonight, on the phone to a friend back East, grumbling about my bad luck. After hanging up, I decided to see if I could watch the competition on-line. After a bit of Googling, there it was, just as it aired on Oxygen. Victory!
The way my living room is configured, I could sit at my computer, watching the streaming video on the flat-screen monitor, then swivel my head or my whole chair to look at NBC's tape-delayed Olympic broadcast on my TV (with the sound muted and closed-captioning on).
The equestrian video ran for an hour, through women's track-and-field on NBC and then into women's gymnastics and the balance-beam individual finals.
It was the oddest sensation. Until then, I never realized what gymnastics and show jumping have in common. Both are about explosive power and clockwork precision. with success measured in fractions of an inch. Both involve wooden bars -- or, in this case, beams.
Tiny girls, many under a hundred pounds, hurl themselves in the air to land on dainty feet on a four-inch-wide beam. Huge horses, some over a thousand pounds, hurl themselves and their riders several feet in the air, daintily tucking up hooves so as not to touch rails sitting in the flattest of cups.
Put a toe wrong, and it's disaster (as happened for the Chinese gymnasts). Put a half-inch of hoof onto the white border of a water jump, and a gold medal is lost.
So there I sat, swiveling back and forth between Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson on the balance beam in the National Indoor Stadium in Beijing, and Laura Kraut, McLain Ward, Beezie Madden and first-time Olympian Will Simpson of nearby Thousand Oaks, Calif., in the ring under the lights in Hong Kong.
China faltered, opening the door to the Americans, who performed flawlessly. The American and Canadian jumping teams tied, leading to a jump-off.
Just as Johnson and Liukin learned they'd gone one-two in the final results, 49-year-old Simpson and his 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding Carlsson vom Dach charged down to the last jump and took off, seeming to hitch and hang in the air an instant too long before landing cleanly and clinching the gold medal for the United States.
I really can't repeat what I yelled at that moment.
Almost simultaneously -- on my TV and my computer screen -- the American gymnasts and the American riders mounted podiums to receive their medals. The "Star Spangled Banner" began to play in Hong Kong, followed a beat later in Beijing.
For a moment, there they all stood -- two girls, one in red and blue, one in white, and four riders in scarlet hunting jackets -- hands over hearts, tears in eyes, clutching bouquets. I got mighty sniffly. Very likely, the only ones that weren't sniffly were the horses.
It was weird, but also awesome.
By the way, in case anyone from NBC is reading this, as I was talking to my friend, I told her that I did a set visit to "Heroes" yesterday. She's not a big watcher of network TV -- and she's never seen "Heroes" -- but she did comment that the show looked very cool, and that she only thought that because she'd seen the promos that aired during the Olympics. I think "Heroes" may have added one more viewer.
Perhaps all those millions the Peacock shelled out for the Games will pay off after all.