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Olympic Expectations

Richard may have a complicated relationship with the Olympics, but I do not.  I unabashedly love the Olympics, but then again, I’m the kind of sports fan who actually watches every minute of the Tour de France.  Which doesn’t make me a “better fan” or anything stupid like that, but I’m not really trapped in the football/basketball/baseball cycle of the American sports calendar.  I just like sports and I like competition of almost any sort.  And the Olympics are a special event with a built in rooting interest.

I don’t buy into the idealism of the Olympic movement, so I’m not overly troubled by its hypocrisy.  I like medal counts, it’s a sporting event, so let’s keep score.  I don’t think this is going to foster world peace, and I’ll admit the Olympics were more fun when I got to root against the Soviets.  I understand corporate sponsorship keeps this juggernaut going and I’m not bothered by McDonald’s ads or whatnot.  I just view this as a really big sporting event and nothing more.  That’s enough for me.  That’s why I like it. 

Normally, I ignore the gymnastics.  I have a grudge against sports in which the entire scoring system is based off of judging.  It’s simply too open for corruption and the results are always in question.  Look no further than figure skating or, even worse, Olympic boxing.  Those sports are constantly mired in judging scandals so much so that I never really feel the competitors dictate who win.  Sure, a bad call can screw a team in soccer, but a ref can’t just award a team a goal. 

However, for some reason (READ: I’m watching these Olympics with a girl), I’ve watched the men’s and women’s team gymnastics competitions in their entirety.  I still have the same problem with the judging, but it’s not really worth ranting about.  Besides, the Chinese men were so obviously better than everyone, it’s hard to complain about a system which nets a just result.  I’m not even going to complain about the inherent creepiness of watching what I like to call “child abuse in action” of girl’s gymnastics. 

What I found fascinating was the different reactions to the respective US teams winning a medal.  The men’s team won a bronze medal amid a cacophony of hoots and hollers.  They preened for the camera, yelled like mad, and I think even threw some fake gang signs.  And it was a lot of fun.  Nevermind that they essentially choked away the silver medal by turning in two God awful routines when the pressure was on. 

The girl’s team took the gas pipe as well.  And they ended up with the silver, which is, on its face, was a better accomplishment than the men’s team.  The silver was met with stony silence and tears. 

So why the two different reactions?  Maybe it is harder to come so close to gold and settle for second than to come close to silver and get the bronze.  I mean, silver and bronze aren’t that much different, at least compared to gold.  I think their might be something to that, but I don’t think that explains it.

No, this came down to expectations.  The men’s team goal was to win a medal, any medal.  They weren’t favored to win the bronze, but then they raced out to medal contention.  When the inevitable China rally occurred, no big deal.  And even though the US could have, and maybe should have, won the silver, the goal was to win a medal.  There hadn’t been enough time to adjust the expectations.  Bronze medal?  Mission accomplished.  No matter the details.

The women’s team wasn’t the gold medal favorite, but they were considered the chief rival to China.  China’s home gym advantage was supposed to tilt the advantage between two evenly matched squads, much like the annual LSU-Auburn game.  The home team won, but the US felt they could have won, maybe should have won, if not for their own self-inflicted wounds.  The goal was gold, and the silver feels like a crappy consolation prize.  Hopefully it won’t feel that way with time, but I’m sure it did at the time.  All because of those expectations. 

Which is a long way to go to bring it back to LSU and expectations this season.  The expectations have been dialed back a little bit given the uncertain QB position, but let’s face it, we want another SEC title.  Anything short of that is going to sting.  Especially if we lose to Auburn, which is one of the worst feelings in the world.  The titles are great, but the expectations that go with all of this winning kind of kill some of the enjoyment.

Remember when it was exciting just to go to a bowl game?  Remember that first SEC title, when Mauck ran all over the stunned Tennessee defense?  Sure, we didn’t win national titles, but every victory felt like, well, a victory.  Now I don’t really enjoy the season until it’s over and I can look back on it as a complete work. 

I wouldn’t trade our current state with any other program.  But sometimes those expectations keep us from enjoying the accomplishments of this team.  It’s probable that LSU is not going to win the SEC this year if nothing else, just because of the quality of competition.  Hopefully, we’ll still be able to celebrate whatever the team accomplishes.  Because a silver medal is still pretty damn good.