My Olympic Viewing Strategy

In the runup to the Olympics, I always think, "Why don't I just read some good books in the next few weeks, rather than spending time on these oddball sports?" But when the saturation coverage begins I always get hooked on the oddball sports and their related mini-dramas. And of course four years ago, when we were living in Beijing, the Olympics and their ramifications for and about China were genuine news -- as I tried to chronicle day-by-day as they went on. Two moments from those games that I will remember:

IMG_5063A1.jpg- Good-heartedly nationalistic cheering during the China-US baseball game, at right, diminished not in the least by the fact that most of the Chinese crowd (and some on the Chinese team) seemed only vaguely aware of the rules, principles, and who's-ahead / who's-behind fine points of baseball. These young ladies were happily cheering during a big U.S. rally. 

- Watching from courtside as, in real time, Roger Federer taught himself the game of doubles in tennis. He had just been knocked out of the singles, was obviously disappointed, and through the first few games of his (and Swiss teammate Stanislas Wawrinka's) semifinal match against the favored Bryan Brothers of the U.S. he muffed several points and seemed the least at-ease player on court.

But then he woke up, and by late in the first set he seemed simultaneously (a) to get mad at the prospect of losing again, and (b) to learn from one point to the next where he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to do as a doubles team-member. He and Wawrinka won the first set in a tie-break and rolled on to a straight-sets win -- and then the gold medal, in the final match against Sweden. Watching a great tennis intelligence applied to a new situation, in real time, was one of the most thrilling sports experiences I have had.


Other brief Olympics-2012 points:

- I'll have a good excuse not ever to check into Twitter for the next two weeks, nor visit the front pages of the NYT or WaPo, since I like maintaining the antiquated fiction of "suspense" when watching events on TiVo in the evening.

- Rowdy Gaines was a great swimmer in his day, and it is interesting to hear his commentary. But often his explanation for why a certain swimmer won or lost is, "her mistake here was that she didn't open up a big enough lead." Great point! Often a football team's mistake is that it doesn't score enough points.

- Because my wife has been since childhood a fanatical and accomplished swimmer, we log many hours hearing what Rowdy Gaines and his poolside colleagues have to say. The Olympics bring out the chauvinism in everyone, including me; but because my wife has done an unusually large number of her recent laps in Australia, as explained here, we cheer for the Aussie swimmers almost as hard as for the Yanks. We figure the Chinese swimmers already have a billion people cheering for them. Each time an Australian victory is announced and Gaines et al refer to "that swimming-crazy country Down Under," she looks at me reproachfully: Why aren't we living in a swimming-crazy country, rather than a [fill in the blank]-crazy country like our homeland?

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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