Much like the experience you will likely receive if you tune into MSNBC expecting actual news this August, Salisbury Snake will be leaving it's wheelhouse a bit this Summer in order to bring you Olympics coverage, whether you like it or not. And considering the article I've done that's received the most hits of any so far, I can presume that you might not mind the change of pace.
I love the Olympics. There's nothing like it. It brings together the people who are the greatest athletes alive from across the planet and squeezes out the best and worst in them for our entertainment. It's a saga with thousands of stories inside of it, personal stories of triumph over long odds, bitter rivalries, breathtaking beauty, and intense brutality. The Unexpected. You might not be a sports fan. You don't have to be. This isn't about sports. It's about the theater of life at it's absolute most dramatic.
This ain't my first rodeo. I live someplace that gets real hot and humid by August, I like to lay low and watch the show. And if I'm gonna watch the show, I might as well let you know what I think about it. So let's twist again, like we did in the Summer of 2008.
First thing's first: Where now are the heroes and villains of Beijing? Between now and the kickoff of the events in late July, I'll be exploring that here at Salisbury Snake. Excitable foreigners here looking for obscure comics, hang loose. I'll never forget you.
We'll start with the two that are most compelling to me. Lolo Jones and Shawn Johnson. From 8/18/08:
You are Lolo Jones, and your life is devoid of meaning.
You're 26. You've made it through adversity in life by focusing on something. Something you're good at. Something remarkable. Something you can do that few can, and something that can make you a little bit famous. Rich, by most estimations.
You were right on the way to a Gold Medal, but your knee clipped that last hurdle. You were lucky to finish at all. Hero to zero in a fraction of a second. You're going home with nothing to show for it. You've got bills to pay. In 4 years you'll be too old and beat up to try this again.
And so you weep.
Let's try another one.
You are Shawn Johnson's mom. Your husband works 2 jobs and there's a second mortgage on your small house, the one you moved into after you sold the bigger one a couple years ago.
Your 16 year old little girl is very bright and very talented. You would've been happy with any productive thing she would've been interested in. She's special to you, but it turns out that she might be special to the whole world, too.
Your Shawn Johnson is Shawn Johnson: one of the greatest gymnasts alive.
She needs to practice and hone her skill, she's driven. She has a goal beyond anything you could have ever conceived of. You work a job and go to bed at night in order to wake up and do the same again tomorrow. You watch TV to pass the time. You are like most of us. But your daughter is not.
You could squash her and make her like you. You could tell her that reality just isn't what her dreams are.
But you don't. Instead, you hire a coach, you install training apparatus in the basement, you drive her around to different competitions all over the country. You make sure she gets good grades, that she is eating right and in good health mentally and physically. You want her to be happy, and to her that means success on an epic scale. Beyond anything you, as a mere mortal, would ever conceive of.
And now her dreams are reality. Gold Medal.
And so you weep.
Four years later, Shawn Johnson is retired at age 20. An injury she took while skiing (of all things) continued to acerbate, she was faced with the reality of never being as good as she had been while systematically damaging her quality of life going into adulthood. The Chinese press took their revenge on the girl who beat them out, which sadly took it's toll. She continued to work hard and apply herself, but she couldn't reach the heights she could before, her knee just kept hurting and this shit all got in her head. She's now unsure of what to do with her life, even more so than your average 20 year old. Can you imagine? At least she's got Dancing With The Stars.
As it turns out, Lolo doesn't have to consider the end of her career, not just yet. Is she as quick as she was at her peak, when she was on the verge of being the fastest the world had ever seen? Probably not. She almost didn't make the team. But she might just still be fast enough. Running hurdles is everything she is. She was often homeless growing up, her gift was her ticket out of a bad life as she ran herself into scholarships. Her faith in God is absolute. Just now, she's probably best known for admitting publicly to being a virgin. In our time in America, this is apparently extremely newsworthy. But she said it best:
"I'm trying to concentrate on the Olympics...let me get this medal for Team U.S.A."