Staying up late to watch a football match on TV is something I’ve done since I was a little kid. In the past few days, however, I’ve been engaged in a nocturnal activity I had never done before: trading my valuable sleeping time for the excitement of watching Olympic swimming. The aquatic center, besides the athletic track fields and football pitches, has always been one of the places where most of the enjoyable Olympic actions take place.
Enjoyable is the keyword here because while other sports offer the same thrilling action, I’m not sure how to enjoy them, like fencing or gymnastics.
I fought my biological clock to hit the sack past Monday midnight to witness the 15-year-old Lithuanian, Ruta Meilutyte, grab the gold medal in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke event. It was a lovely thing to watch: the previously unknown teenager beating her more experienced competitors and earning the first gold for her country in the swimming pool.
The night before, I was so excited by the men’s 4 x 100 m freestyle, I simply had no time for football. On other channels, Great Britain’s football team was playing against United Arab Emirates and Spain was struggling against Honduras, but I couldn’t be bothered to switch the channel and I didn’t regret it at all. The spectacle in the swimming pool turned out to be a great one. The US quartet, including Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, led for the first 350 meters before France’s Yannick Agnel edged Lochte in the last 50 meters. It’s a reverse of what happened four years ago in the Beijing Olympics, when USA’s Jason Lezak overtook Alain Bernard on the last stroke of the match. It’s sweet revenge for Les Francais.
My love for watching swimming in a multi-event tournament can be traced back to the mid-‘90s when school students were encouraged to watch the Olympics and Southeast Asian Games on TV. I even remember being told one time to go home early so we wouldn’t miss the action on TV. Seeing the former Singaporean swimmer, Joscelin Yeo, in this year’s Olympics as a Star Sports commentator reminded me of her rivalry with Indonesia’s Catherine Surya back then.
There’s only one Indonesian swimmer competing in London — I Gede Siman Sudartawa in the 100-meter backstroke — and he’s already been eliminated, so I can’t count on nationality to enjoy the spectacle. The thing about swimming is you can actually like and root for a swimmer the moment you see them without knowing them before. Just pick anyone you like and wait for the next minute to see if he wins it. Plain and simple. I didn’t know who Meilutyte was but I instantly liked her after she won her heat. The same thing applies to USA’s Missy Franklin, Italy’s Federica Pellegrini and China’s Sun Yang. I feel like I’ve known them for years.
The beauty of the Olympics is that not only are you able to watch the greatest athletes from all over the world compete for glory, but you’re also given the chance to watch other sports whose existence you barely even felt before.
Weightlifting is a sport that is as alien as the concept of queuing for some Indonesians, but no doubt those who watched our lifter, Eko Yuli Irawan in the 62-kilogram action on Monday evening, were cheering like they had watched the sport all their lives. Suddenly you’re familiar with the term “snatch” and you begin to wonder whether “clean and jerk” bears a sexual connotation written in the wrong order.
North Korea’s Kim Un Guk broke the world record to snatch the gold, but Eko Yuli wouldn’t be too disappointed with bronze. Eko Yuli’s bronze-medal performance was met with a rousing reception. It’s Indonesia’s first medal in London and we’re expecting more to come from our warriors on the badminton fields, the only sport where we stand a genuine chance of bringing home the gold.
I’m looking forward to other exciting things to watch, especially the traditional ultimate showdown of any Olympics: the men’s 100 m sprint in athletics. This year, it has an all-star line up, from the defending gold-medalist Usain Bolt and his training-partner-turned-rival Yohan Blake, to the American comeback kids, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay. That, and the men’s 4×100 m relay where Bolt and Blake will compete as a team, will be the pinnacle of London 2012.
As for football, there will be plenty of time over the next 12 months to make a fuss about it after the European leagues start. For now, let’s enjoy the Olympics.