If you’re the enlightened, wordly sort, the Olympics allow you to partake in harmless red-white-and-blue-ing that’s without feeling guilty. If you’d rather drive a garden stake into your chest than live anywhere but AMERICA, the Olympics make your jingoistic urges seem temporarily normal. It’s a win-win! Unless we lose.
Whenever a country takes on the stupendously back-breaking, soul-draining, public-transportation-clogging burden of hosting an event like this, they become entitled to your support. Plus, the home athletes — especially this year’s home athletes, given the particular unrealism of English athletic expectations — are under stupidly immense amounts of pressure. Remember how Andy Murray broke down crying after he lost in the finals of Wimbledon? Yeah.
Murray will be back out on the grass, and there are others, of course — the Guardian have a great long list here. Some highlights: Jessica Ennis, a heptathlete and hurdler, is “the poster girl for London 2012,” but will be coming off recent injuries. Sailer Ben Ainslie will try to win his fourth gold medal. One of the best female swimmers in the world, Rebecca Adlington is also one of her country’s most famous female athletes. Somali-born runner Mo Farah will represent England’s immigrant community and try to medal for England in events they’re traditionally weak at, the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. And British soccer teams are always under immense pressure. Always.
Burkina Faso has never won an Olympic medal before. Neither have a bunch of other countries. And there are plenty more for whom those medals come few and far in between. So root for Afghanistan, which has six athletes at the Games, one of whom, Rohullah Nikpah, won bronze in Taekwondo four years ago. Cheer for Bhutan, which only has two competitors, shooter Kunzang Choden and archer Sherab Zam. Cheer for Guor Marial, a marathoner from South Sudan who, because of his country’s lack of an Olympic committee, will be competing as an independent athlete. Cheer for Bangladesh, a nation of 158,000,000 people that has never won a medal, and the American-born gymnast Syque Caesar, who might be able to change that.
There are approximately 12,000 athletes competing at the Olympics. Only 20 of them, at current count, are openly gay. That’s 0.0017%. In the abstract, the Olympics are supposed to use sport for some greater purpose: honoring your country, representing your fellow humans, bringing the world together in harmonious peaceful communion, that sort of crap. There may be no Olympians more emblematic of those goals than these few, who are helping to carve out a place for gays not just in sport but in the wider world.
Megan Rapinoe is particularly worth your support. She’s one of the best soccer players in the world, and her incredible cross to Abby Wambach in the 122nd minute of last year’s World Cup game against Brazil was one of the best plays of the year in any sport. And as expressed in an interview with Out Magazine last year, she understands the importance of being open about her sexuality. “I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out. I feel everyone is really craving [for] people to come out. People want — they need — to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol’ U.S. of A.”
The Olympics are one of the rare venues where a non-tennis-playing female athlete can become a household name. The stakes are high, and it’s a perfect opportunity to see women being just as competitive and thrilling and brutal and intense as men, and often even more so. This year there are plenty of excellent storylines to look forward to. The U.S. soccer team will face brutal competition from Japan and Brazil as well as the highly-motivated home-field Brits, and a third-straight gold medal is far from a given. 17-year-old Missy Franklin, competing in seven events in London, is poised to become the face of U.S. swimming. Russia and the U.S. will be in a two-sided slugfest for many of the gymnastics medals, mostly hinging on the performances of Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber for the U.S. and Alina Mustafina and Viktoria Komova for the Russians. Argentina’s Luciana Aymar, widely recognized as the greatest field hockey player of all time, will likely have her last shot to win gold after two bronze and one silver medal. And Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, the first woman to ever represent Malaysia in shooting, will compete while eight months pregnant.
A few suggestions: Ryan Lochte and Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, two swimmers who are both very good-looking. (See evidence above.) Teddy Riner, a French judo legend who is 6’8”, 23 years old, and nicknamed “Teddy Bear.” Im Dong-Hyun, a South Korean who’s of the best archers in the world despite being legally blind. Julie Zeitlin, America’s only Olympic rhythmic gymnast. Roger Federer, who is likely on his last chance to earn a singles gold medal. Yohan Blake, Jamaica’s upstart 22-year-old sprinter, the leading threat to Usain Bolt’s dominance. Holly Mangold, one of America’s best hopes for a weightlifting medal, who can lift more than her NFL All-Pro brother Nick. Dressage rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, at 71 the second-oldest Olympian ever. Aya Medany, a hijab-wearing Egyptian pentathlete competing in her third Olympics despite being only 24. And Sally Pearson, Kellie Wells, Dawn Harper, Jessica Ennis, and Lolo Jones, who will battle in one of the Games’ most exciting (and best-looking) fields, the 100m women’s hurdles.
A partial and far from complete list. Find your own favorites!
1. James Honeybone (English fencer, pictured above)
2. Hulk (Brazilian soccer player)
3. Chang Ran O (North Korean soccer player)
4. Blessing Oborududu (Nigerian wrestler)
5. and 6. Storm and Jade Uru (New Zealand rowers)
7. Erica Morningstar (Canadian swimmer)
8. Philipp Boy (German gymnast)
9. Dilshod Mansurov (Uzbekistani wrestler)
10. Diju V (Indian badminton player)
Broaden your national allegiances a little bit by cheering for the birthplace of your father or grandmother or dog. (Like, do you have a Portuguese Water Dog?) For example, that fellow up there, equestrian showjumper Billy Twomey, rides a horse named Tinka’s Serenade. He’s Irish. I’m Irish! Partly Irish. I’m 25% Irish, 25% English, and then 50% German-Jewish. So there you go.
My friend Craig Kinsley (that’s him, right there) is throwing the javelin for the United States. He was a national champion at Brown, and we went to high school together. (As I remember it, the reason he started doing track was because he broke his hand playing pickup basketball — he was a baseball player, and the injury kept him out that season. So he started running, and then jumping, and now here he is.) Craig Kinsley, everyone!
Just because the Olympic spirit of friendly competition and human fellowship is undermined by massive corporate interests and the cyclists injecting themselves with the brain juice of mutant donkeys doesn’t mean you have to undermine it yourself. No one here is competing on behalf of pure, unmitigated evil, thanks to our victory in the Cold War, BOOYA. If for some reason you don’t like someone in the Olympics — like Michael Phelps up there, all smug and bearded and finger-pointy, just cheer for some other specific competitor. Use these rules and it should be easy to find someone. If you can’t, maybe you’re not fit for cheering anyway and you should go find a fern to yell at.