by Travis Naughton
While watching coverage of the Rio Olympics, I couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic about my own glorious Olympic moment that occurred twenty years ago. No, I didn’t compete in Atlanta, Georgia like the rest of the athletes in 1996. Instead, I showed off my skills from the comfort of my own living room in Columbia, Missouri. My specialty? Armchair pommel horse.
Don’t be embarrassed if you didn’t realize that a recliner can double as a gymnastics apparatus. I didn’t know either, until I tried it. I had no idea that I could use a fully reclined La-Z-Boy to execute one of the greatest pommel horse routines in the history of living room Olympics. Unfortunately, I also had no idea how to do a proper dismount. After nailing an impressive handstand, one that capped-off my baffling and amazing routine, I fell flat on my back in the middle of the thinly-carpeted floor. This singular mistake may have been the only thing that prevented me from realizing my dream of winning a gold medal. Naturally, I was devastated. Lucky for me, Bethany was there to offer her support, another malted beverage, and an exasperated eye roll.
Watching 19 year-old American swimmer Katie Ledecky win a gold medal in the 400M freestyle, beating her closest competitor by five seconds and the previous world record by two seconds, I realized the window of opportunity for me to represent my country at a medal ceremony has very likely closed. Probably. Do they give medals for eating an entire bucket of extra crispy fried chicken?
At 44 years of age, I am finally prepared to admit that I may in fact be past my physical prime. Bad knees, a spastic lower back, and a beer belly do not an elite athlete make. Nevertheless, I enjoy sports very much. I still play softball and shoot hoops on occasion. I enjoy riding my bike, though in an arthritic/masochistic sort of way these days. Mostly I like watching sports, which given my physique, is not surprising. I love watching Cardinals games. I love being able to watch and announce Southern Boone Eagles football games from the press box. And I love watching the summer Olympics from the comfort of my recliner.
Perhaps it’s the four-year wait that makes the Olympics such compelling television. Maybe it’s the pride in cheering for one’s countrymen and women as they strive to bring glory to their nation. For me, it’s the moments of sublime beauty and tear-jerking inspiration the Olympics provide that keep me coming back Olympiad after Olympiad. One of those moments occurred last Sunday night when British gymnast Ellie Downie landed head-first on the mat during her floor exercise, rendering herself dizzy and unable to complete her routine. Although she could not walk to the training room without assistance, Downie stunned and inspired her teammates, (including her sister), and the world by returning to the arena minutes later and performing not one but two well-executed vaults.
Regardless of the sport, I will never tire of watching athletes who are at the pinnacle of their profession. I was amazed last weekend when I watched Kerri Walsh-Jennings utterly dominate her beach volleyball opponents in her fourth Olympiad. Seeing legendary swimmer Michael Phelps help his team win the 4×100 freestyle relay, adding to his ridiculously huge collection of gold medals, was simply magnificent. And witnessing the U.S. women’s gymnastics team destroying the best gymnasts in the world during qualifying for the individual all-around competition was as stunning as Gabby Douglas’s smile.
It’s going to be a fun two weeks of sitting in my recliner and watching the Olympic games. Maybe I’ll be inspired to come out of retirement. Armchair vault seems like a really good idea…