What is better than gold medal?

Published 12:10 am Friday, August 26, 2016

When the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil started two weeks ago, our house suddenly became a series of imaginary Olympic venues. Which venue depended on the broadcasts my 7-year-old son watched.

Because our family doesn’t have a television and uses a tablet as our primary source of video entertainment, Gibson watched a wide variety of sports during the Olympics.

He acted out everything from swimming to track and field events in our living room.

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Other random performances were more difficult to identify since my son and I sampled some of the less mainstream sports, including table tennis, BMX cycling, rowing, fencing and handball.

Then as suddenly as they came, the Olympics were over.

Monday evening as I was taking a break I pulled out the tablet to flip through Facebook and maybe watch a video. Thinking he might get in a little video time himself, Gibson crept up beside me to see if what I was watching was remotely interesting.

“Daddy, are you sad that the Olympics are over,” Gibson asked.

Sensing his disappointment, I looked at him and said, “A little bit, but probably not why you think.”

Giving me a quizzical look he jumped out of the chair and proclaimed that he wished the Olympics could be on all of the time.

Then he proceeded to do his best interpretation of an Olympic swimmer, sprinter and gymnast all rolled into one.

In the 1970s the Olympics was one of those things the whole country watched together. Wrapped up in ideas of patriotism and national pride, families across the county gathered around the television to watch the Cold War play out on the field or in the pool.

My earliest memories of the Olympics are watching my grandfather and uncle cheer from their La-Z-Boys when the U.S. Olympic hockey team beat the Russians in Lake Placid, N.Y. during the 1980 Winter Olympics.

Whether it was Los Angeles in 1984, Barcelona in 1992 or Atlanta in 1996, I can remember watching with my family as Carl Lewis won gold, the Dream Team took the court and Muhammad Ali lit the torch.

Since then, viewing the Olympics, like most television, has fallen victim to the proliferation of channels and the rise of the Internet.

Four years ago when Gibson was just three years old, our family watched very little of the London Olympics. I didn’t expect this year to be any different.

Then Gibson and I started watching highlights from Rio. Each night we might spend 15 or 20 minutes cheering Michael Phelps and other American swimmers to victory. Then we started choosing the events that piqued our interest. We might watch a part of a soccer match or a few minutes of marathon swimming.

By the end of the games, Gibson and I made watching the Olympics a regular routine, watching a few clips in the morning before school or in the evening before bed.

Now that the games are over, we have fallen back into our pre-Olympics routine — Gibson watches Legos, ninjas and other cartoons on the tablet as I flip through Facebook and Instagram on my phone.

Am I sad that the Olympics are over?

Maybe a little, but I will miss the daily connection my son and I made more than I will any gold medal.

Four years is too long to wait to restart the routine. Thank goodness college football is just around the corner.


Ben Hillyer is the news editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-597-3642 or by email at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.