Over the last few years, I’ve made a point to watch less television.
Of course, I still watch all my favorite sports teams and I never miss an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” but other than that, I don’t keep up with any new shows.
That all changed the last two weeks. Any spare moment I had, my TV was tuned into NBC or one of its affiliate channels, watching whatever the hell was on. Whether it was the standard track and field, gymnastics, swimming, soccer or volleyball, or the more obscure ping-pong, handball, water polo, shot put or fencing — it didn’t matter.
I loved watching the competition. I loved watching the athletes give it all they had for pride and love of their country.
I appreciated that every single one of these athletes had worked relentlessly for decades and dedicated their lives to get to where they are. I felt their jubilation when they won, and I shared their heartbreak when they fell short of their ultimate goal.
Another thrill for me was to read the stories behind the athletes. Of the refugee, Yusra Mardini, who risked her life fleeing Syria and was now competing at the highest level under a flag with no country on it. Or when Michael Phelps, after his second DWI two years ago, texted his agent that he didn’t “want to be alive anymore.” And how Simone Biles was adopted by her grandparents in Belize after her own parents could no longer take care of her and her siblings.
It taught me that greatness certainly doesn’t come easy.
We also witnessed the end of two of the most prolific Olympic careers in history. No longer will Phelps and Usain Bolt of Jamaica represent their respective countries in the greatest level of international competition.
In a two week span, we got to see the best swimmer of all time and the best runner of all time.
But alongside that came new stars. Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky, both 19, have 11 medals between them — 10 gold.
We saw an American swimmer make a statement about staying clean when Lily King of the U.S. defeated Russian swimmer and convicted doper Yulia Efimova. We saw how longstanding regional conflict can bleed into international competition when an Egyptian refused to shake an Israeli’s hand.
But that blemish was overshadowed by a single act of sportsmanship that exemplified the best parts of humanity, when an American and New Zealander encouraged each other to finish a race after falling.
And of course, we were privileged to witness Ryan Lochte’s buffoonery — once an innocent source of entertainment — get him into actual trouble.
Brazil, too, overcame most people’s meager expectations by stepping up to the challenge and putting on a successful show. The country still has its problems, no doubt, but these Games can at least give the nation and its people something to build on.
So consider this my thank you. To Rio, to the athletes, and to the world of international competition.
I will never win a gold medal.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t be excited when others do.