Guy Ellis

Once every four years

The special thing about the Olympics is that they transcend sports. The Olympics can draw interest, and enthusiasm, from a person toward an athletic competition where none may have existed before.

For instance, I became a fan of relay swimming for about 45 minutes Sunday night while watching the Games on television.

The US Olympic team of Cullen Jones, Jason Lezak, Michael Phelps, and Garrett Weber-Gale took home the gold medal in the men’s 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay with a new world record time of 3:08.24.

Aside from the gold standard reputation and cache, and packaging, of the Olympics, nationalism played a role as well in my interest.

Nationalism, to crudely paraphrase Rocky Balboa, is a bit like fire. The concept, like a fire, can provide benefits and enhancements to the experiences of the spectators and athletes alike. But also like a fire, too much nationalism can burn and destroy everything in its path.

The simple balance is to root for the United States while still respecting the athletic abilities of the other competitors. A celebrated crown must be won against worthy opponents. And in the end the Games is more about a competition between athletes than it is a competition of nations.

The style in which the Olympics are presented is another factor in its prestige and its ability to gather large audiences. Generally, each competition on the television is preceded by a brief human interest story about a particular team, athlete, or situation within the sport. These pieces help give the viewer a frame of reference for the event, usually a sport alien to the broader market such as the 4 x 100-meter swimming relay.

The intro piece to that event centered on the comments made by certain members of the French team about the United States squad. The comments, something to the effect of “crushing” Team USA, weren’t really given much context from the broadcasting company and, by themselves, the words amounted to what would pass for red-meat type bulletin board material in any locker room anywhere.

They were made more poignant in light of the relay result. To see four young Americans capture what was probably a long sought goal, not to mention one of the biggest athletic prizes around, was an exciting sight all on its own. But I have to admit to just a little “Freedom fries”-think making the win that much more enjoyable to witness.

As for the athletes themselves, they were the real-deal kind of representatives that all Americans can be proud of. Obviously disciplined and hard working, they also carried themselves with class and respect.

Watching the post-race interview offered a small insight to the group dynamic of the team. Two appeared as engaging extroverts who probably provide the spark and emotion needed in the chemistry of strong teamwork. The other half of the squad was more introverted and probably provides the discipline and structure to compliment their teammate’s enthusiasm. My opinions on the matter were reinforced to me while watching the podium ceremony.

For all of the significance surrounding the Games there are still some events where not even the five-ringed endorsement can lure my attention for long.

The swimming event was followed by the early rounds of the men’s beach volleyball tournament. One of the competing teams hailed from a nation that I probably couldn’t find on a map and the other from a country that I can’t even pronounce, let alone spell correctly. After a few minutes I switched the television to the Western Channel.

Newspapers use quotation marks for movie titles, the real world uses italics

Sports movies have always been a staple in the diet of most all guys. The really good ones transcend the male audience and gather a diverse following all of their own.

My favorite sports movie is “Rocky.” Before the character, and the series, turned into a cartoon-type, clichéd, parody of itself there was the original 1976 Academy Award nominated film of the ultimate underdog going the distance against the best in the world.

Themes from sports are easily made to reflect greater social battles, good versus evil, or redemption, for instance, and that is one reason for the financial and cultural success of the genre as a whole.

Recently I had the opportunity to re-watch another personal favorite sports movie, “The Champ.”

Again a movie about boxing - that particular sport is a powerful metaphor for struggle and struggle is what makes for compelling characters - “The Champ” delves into many peripheral concepts outside of athletics. The realities of relationships between fathers and sons, societal issues such as divorce and vice, and the idea that sometimes a man can never fully recover from losing the first love of his life are all played out and brought together through the prism of an athletic endeavor entered into to somehow right all of those situations.

At times the movie was melodramatic but it would be a cold person who wasn’t moved by the sequence of events that lead to the climatic finish of the film.

While sports movies are a nice distraction there’s nothing like the “human drama of athletic competition” – to borrow a phrase- of the real thing. Now that school is back in session the Ridgerunner squads will be returning to the turf. Lady Red softball and GHS football are the marquee events on the fall menu and it will be nice to see the local stadium seats begin to turn red and white.