I think it was when I was on the couch Thursday night, watching taped delayed coverage of women’s rowing, that it hit me.
For the last week, and for the next, I am no longer manning the oars of my life.
This is what the Olympics do to otherwise fairly normal people. Every four years, NBC turns a nation perfectly content with football, WWE Smackdown and the occasional episode of “Wipeout” into red, white and blue sporting zombies.
Don’t tell me the results! La-La-La-La-La. I want to experience the full drama in not-even-close to real time, couched and massaged by scriptwriters who will tell me who to root for and how to feel.
And then there are the Twitter Olympic Addicts, who can’t wait to find out the very latest news from across the pond. An American won gold in Judo? Do you have a link? How is our archery team doing? Did you hear the top horse on our dressage team has a bad hoof? If our synchronized swimming guys don’t get those elbows in sync, that’s gonna hurt us in the medal chase.
Ah, yes, the big medal chase. We look at that big tote board, and as we battle with China for the overall lead, the whispers from the NBC ministers of information about how our rivals might be enhancing performance — never an out-and-out accusation, mind you, but the talk is out there — will follow as surely as the next Michael Phelps/Mama Phelps/Subway commercial.
But every once in awhile, the human drama of athletic competition refuses to be scripted and priceless moments ensue. And for my money, the best bang for the buck has come from the badminton courts — where eight female badminton players from three countries were booted from the Olympics not for cheating or doping, but deliberately throwing matches to improve their seeding.
None of the players were from the USA, proving again we trail the rest of the world when it comes to ingenuity and innovation. But there were teams from China, South Korea and Indonesia, throwing matches with the goal of blazing an easier path to a medal.
Luckily, badminton has the kind of enforceable rules you won’t find in major league baseball or the NBA — you are actually compelled to play hard — but not before a few hours of “lower, slower, weaker” crept into the London Olympics.
I know what’s like to tank a badminton match (sure, it was a Fourth of July picnic and the opponent was my nine-year-old niece) and you have to sell a little bit of effort. But these athletes didn’t waste one bit of energy selling effort. They were all business. Both sides had a job to do — not win.
What do you think the pre-match huddle between players and coaches was like? Remember, this is competitive crappiness after all. You still need a pep talk:
“OK girls, this is an arena packed with fans that paid a lot of money to see you trample on what little popularity and credibility our sport has. Now I know the other team is going to try to suck... but you’ve got to dig down deep to suck harder! You’ve got to not want this match from the start, because if you aren’t ready to fail right away you could wind up too far ahead to possibly fall apart.
“Look at me ladies! This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Your parents didn’t send you to badminton boot camp at the age of four for you to give it all you have today. Not today! You have to grab that racket and act like you’re trying to swat butterflies in a wind tunnel. You’ve got to treat that shuttlecock like it’s a bubonic rat.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for failure. Once you tank this match, there is no way they can give it back to you. But if you don’t sink to the occasion, you’ll never get that taste of victory out of your mouth!”
Not quite Knute Rockne, but it gets the job done. Or un-done.
Still a week to go. Lots of track and boxing and if we’re lucky, maybe 50 3-pointers and a 200-point game from Kobe, Carmelo and LeBron.
Unless of course, it makes good, strategic sense to drop a game before the medal round.
Jerry Brown is a contributing columnist who appears every Sunday in the Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.