Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not-So-Golden Girls

As I watched the elfin American girls lose the gymnastic team gold medal to the pre-pubescent Chinese, I couldn't help but think of all the seven-year-old little Olympic wannabes who would be devastated by the loss.

I was seven during the 1972 Munich Games when America's greatest hope of gymnastic glory rested firmly on the petite shoulders of future Peter Pan, Cathy Rigby. But as much as I wanted to root for our country's plucky sweetheart, my loyalty, I'm afraid, was with a flexible Soviet named Olga Korbut.

I didn't just love Olga Korbut, I looooooooooooved Olga Korbut. In my short seven years on the planet, I had never seen anyone do what she could do. I used to try to memorize her routines so I could play them over and over again in my larger-than-normal-size head before I went to sleep. In retrospect, her moves were so easy that these days a seven-year-old could do them as a warm-up for much tougher moves.

My father took the opportunity of my Soviet obsession to give me a lesson on communism. I was flabbergasted. To think that my Soviet hero didn't have the freedom to go where she wanted or do what she wanted actually made me weep. I desperately wanted her to win gold just so her family would have a better life.

In the months following the Olympics, my parents took me to the Spectrum in Philadelphia to see the Soviet phenoms during an exibition tour. They bought me an Olga Korbut T-shirt and encouraged me to stand with the other little pony-tailed girls in the hopes of getting an autograph. I watched the guards closely and wondered whether my Olga secretly wanted to defect.

But the closer I got to my crush, the more I realized she was a bitch of epic proportions. My sympathy for her plight evaporated immediately. The Commies could have her. (The last time I heard about Olga Korbut, she was living in Atlanta and had been popped for shoplifting.)

Yet as I watched the Chinese toddlers receive their gold medals, I couldn't help but feel sorry for them. Most of these girls had been taken away from their families when they were three. The pressure they must have felt is unimaginable. Prior to the meet, the Chinese Head Coach said that if his gymnasts didn't win gold, he would throw himself off the highest building in Beijing. I believed him!

So, while the American girls may have been disappointed in their defeat, they will still go on to make their own choices in life, travel freely and, most importantly, have as many children as they want.

In the end, they are the real winners.

Or they could all wind up like Olga Korbut, living in Georgia with a rap-sheet the size of a balance beam.

Here's Olga Korbut doing one of her gold-medal winning routines. It's hard to believe that 36 years ago her moves were controversial and considered too dangerous for the sport.


Suzy said...

And there was this other problem with the Americans. They sucked. Didn't the Chinese have a 30 point lead?

Traci Skene said...

Say what?! No, the Americans didn't suck...and they are the defending World Champions. The Chinese had a one point lead going into the final round.

Both teams are amazing. The rest of the competition is going to be fun to watch.