Sunday, August 5, 2012

Olympic Pride

I love the Olympics. Not to be all cheesy but it's an event in which people feel national pride, root for their country and unite in... well, watching TV, I guess. It's also always eye opening as to where our country stands in comparison to others in the world of sports. And I realize, at the same time, that my world geography is terrible.

It is difficult to catch any footage of Japanese athletes in the U.S. unless they were in the events in which the U.S. was also strong. The first Olympic I experienced here was in 1984, my first summer after moving. I spent 10 weeks working at a horse-back riding summer camp in the middle of nowhere in California because I felt I would lose my freshly acquired English if I went home for two and a half months. I was a nerd. My mother's friend in California who lived near my boarding school recommended this camp to me and there I was, working in the kitchen, cleaning horse stalls, milking cows and mingling with American kids. There was no TV there and we were in bed by 9:00 pm and up by 5:30 am. I was 16 and clearly didn't know better. My mother sent me newspaper clippings of how Japan was doing while it was happening and my parents also recorded the opening ceremony on VHS and sent it to me to watch when I got back to school. I felt removed and home sick, but also was having such a great time that all of that seemed less important than it had been. I kept the clippings in my journal (ah, journal keeping).

Every Olympics since then is just a series of "What's happening with Japan?" I would watch the screen like a hawk to spot a Japanese athlete and track them in the background. If they are close to any Americans competing, I would hang on to every word being said about them. If they did any kind of a feature on a Japanese athlete, I would automatically tear up as if I were related to them. I felt that if TV in the U.S. was mentioning them, my country was noticed at that moment. In occasions like that when you realize how your culture is viewed in a foreign land, you hope that people have a good impression.

Then came the winter Olympics in Nagano in '98. I remember that whole "emphasis on the first syllable" pronunciation lessons by NBC and I remember thinking "that's nice that they care." I received a phone call in the midst of that from someone I only sort of knew who put me on the speaker phone to ask what I thought of that. He explained that he was with his colleagues and one of them who is Japanese felt this was not 100% accurate and this sort-of-friend wanted to know my take. I told them that I felt touched that NBC would be so culturally sensitive and put efforts into pronouncing it correctly. I said it's a heck of a lot closer than how it has been pronounced (with the emphasis on the second syllable as that is the natural tendencies for English speakers) and really, who cares? He later told me that this Japanese dude he knew was a total jerk and he wanted another Japanese person to challenge him. Ugh. How embarrassing. 

I remember watching the opening ceremony, which was oddly in the daytime there to accommodate the prime time TV airing in the U.S. (or some such reason), and was once again beaming with pride. They opened the whole ceremony with a then-famous sumo wrestler who held the highest honor and status as far as athletes in Japan performing a ritual to bless the event.

Side note: this wrestler, Akebono, is not even Japanese. He is Polynesian.  

Okay, so the figure skater Midori Ito lighting the torch was both moving and awkward in that she looked like a super hero yet seemed trapped by her costume:

But it was exciting to witness my home country host this and sad that I was not there to share the Olympic fever. Or buy any goods.

The worst though was the Vancouver Olympics figure skating. If you recall, Kim Yu-Na, super cute South Korean skater took the gold which was unusual and exciting.  Mao Asada of Japan took silver. Then a Canadian skater Joannie Rochette took Bronze and because she was local and Kim Yu-Na was sensational, they covered more of those two during the medal ceremony.  In fact, there was no shot of Mao Asada. Like she was not there. I actually said, "Oh come on!" Granted, Japan took gold in Turin and we got all kinds of coverage then but still. SHE GOT SILVER AND I THINK YOU CAN MAYBE SHOW HER FOR A SECOND WITH HER MEDAL. Sigh.

This time around, however, technology is on my side. I can now stream Japanese TV in real time on my computer. Not to mention the amount of websites available that will tell me how every athlete from Japan is doing at practically every moment. It is bliss. Of course with all of that PLUS the American coverage, I am not getting anything done but dammit, I am following my fellow countrymen who are doing their thing. 

Japan has been depressed since the earthquake and there is a lot of "What's going to happen to our country?" feelings floating around so we could use some pep. Just yesterday, in the men's 400 medley relay in swimming, Japan took silver. You may not have noticed this so much because Michael Phelps was also swimming his very last Olympic race and his team took gold. But this silver was huge for Japan. Kitajima, who has competed in the Olympics in the past did not earn any medals this time around and since this was his last one his teammates said, "We can't let him go home empty handed." So they swam hard and won a silver medal for him to take home. See? That is a good story. Thank you, internet streaming.

I am certain that I am not the only one who is rooting for my home country, the U.S. being the melting pot and all. 

I can only imagine what technology will provide in the future.