Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Tragedy of Traveling During the Olympics

A funny thing happened as I read Sports Illustrated this morning. In the leading off section I was glancing through the headshots of medal-winning U.S. athletes from the recently completed Olympic Games in London when I looked up the name of one particularly decorated face and found that it was Missy Franklin. Of course I keep myself somewhat in tune with the news throughout vacations so the name wasn't foreign to me. I knew who Missy Franklin was, I knew she was a teenager and I knew she was way better at swimming than I am.

But I didn't recognize her.

Were this any other Olympic Games when I was sitting around at the office watching four channels at once of coverage daily or setting myself down in front of NBC's much-chastised, but actually pretty decent tape-delayed nightly programming I would surely recognize all the big names and big faces at a moment's glance by now. But see I've been traipsing around northern Europe for three weeks -- well, "was", I got back a week ago -- and so while I picked up what loose ends and scraps from the Olympic dinner table news websites and Twitter would afford me, I still spent these games feeling uniquely out of sync with what was going on.

See, generally speaking, I love the Olympics. I actually prefer the Winter Games, but the Summer Games, too, are among one of my favorite things to watch, not simply because we are watching the finest athletes in the world reach a level that took four years of buildup, but also because it gives us the opportunities to see some of the more exciting -- or bizarre -- sports that we don't usually see in the United States. Every four years when the Summer Olympics roll around I relish my chance to see things like fencing, rowing, weightlifting and, most of all, team handball, which is pure dynamite.

So, as I scurried my way about Scandinavia earlier this month, the one drawback was that with some 400 hours of Olympic coverage planned on U.S. television I saw what might amount to a whole 45 minutes of it over two weeks.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't really trade in the trip I had for the chance to see Matt Grevers (Go Cats!) win two gold medals. Over the span of 19 days I hiked on a glacier, saw unbelievable scenery, visited seven countries, saw numerous castles, saw an island fortress, saw a razed sunken warship, saw Bruce Springsteen's longest concert ever, saw a 100-year-old Olympic Stadium, threw a frisbee on a mountain in the midnight sun in the arctic circle and, in a less exciting twist, had my wallet and passport stolen from me for about four hours.

Those are memories I will hold with me far longer than I would remember seeing McKayla Maroney's dissatisfaction. But it still doesn't mean a part of me winces knowing that I missed out on a quadrennial sporting event I love, even if it also means I missed the Mets' utterly spectacular collapse this season. Unfortunately those are the risks you take when you plan vacations. At the very least, I didn't end up scheduling my vacation during Johan Santana's no-hitter earlier this year, which, as I noted at the time, was a fear I had constantly had for years of planning summer trips.

In the end I can be thankful for that, and if nothing else, with no plans to leave the country ahead of me for the next year or so, it seems pretty unlikely I'd miss something else in sports I would regret not seeing. And on the plus side for all of you, even though this wasn't the most excitable, cheery post to return to, you've got me back, which means more of my sports-centric neuroses will be on display -- particularly since we're oh so close to the start of football season.

So get excited, people. You know you missed me.

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