Of course we were all disappointed to see vaulting sprite McKayla Maroney barely miss the gold in her single-event competition last night. She was favored to win by a pretty wide margin and she's just such a fiery little dynamo. It would have been nice to see her get a special standout moment amidst all the Gabby Douglas brouhaha. But, she missed the landing on her second vault, leaving room for Sandra Izbasa of Romania to come in and eke out the win. And while it was disappointing, at some point I felt a strange wave of calm overtake me as I watched Izbasa joyously reacting to the results. In a strange way, I was glad that she won.
Which isn't to say that I was rooting against Maroney, but chances are a girl from Romania is going back to something far less pleasant than Maroney's hometown of Laguna Niguel. Who knows, maybe Izbasa is Romanian royalty and lives in a palace, but in my "I don't know too much about Romania other than that it's poor and full of vampires" haze last night, I found myself glad that Izbasa at least had this moment. I wasn't rooting for her right before she won, but I was when she did. It's a strange sensation, cheering on the non-American, but it's something that happens a lot during the Olympics.
Last night there was a women's singles diving event, the 3 meter springboard, and though there were two Americans in the finals, and one of them in serious medal contention, I found myself instead keeping my fingers crossed for Italy's Tania Cagnotto. There was something about her story that caught me — her father Giorgio has four Olympic diving medals, her mother Carmen Casteiner also dived at the Olympics, and, at only 27, this was Cagnotto's fourth appearance at an Olympic games. She'd gone medal-free Sydney, Athens, and Beijing, and last night felt like a one-more-chance opportunity. It was quietly riveting to watch her dives, so full of want and family weight. She was the one I most wanted to win, even though she'd do nothing for the good old American medal count. Alas, she was narrowly defeated for the bronze by Mexico's Laura Sanchez, and the look on her face as she saw the scores go up on the board told a whole long, sad story of hope and disappointment.
We're all kind of rooting for Usain Bolt, aren't we? Sure we've got Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin, and others, running for the red white and blue, but Bolt is the more interesting story. And his rivalry with countryman Yohan Blake is the most compelling thing in sprinting right now. So while it was nice to see Gatlin get a bronze for his efforts in last night's 100 meter sprint, Bolt was the true hero of the night, just how many of us hoped he would be. It would have been exciting in an upset/surprise sort of way to see an American beat either of those two Jamaicans, but it also would have been kind of disappointing, right? We had strong American contenders in that race (and in the upcoming 200 meter dash), but our hearts, or at least some of them, were with the Jamaicans. Funny how the Olympics can do that.
Maybe to some of you a lack of blind nationalism isn't that surprising, but for someone who feverishly awaits the all-important medal count at the end of the primetime broadcast, desperately hoping to see the USA at the top, you'd think I would solidly throw my support behind the Americans no matter what. But sometimes their stories just aren't as gripping, or some semblance of spirit will radiate off of another athlete and through the TV screen and I'll be hooked on them. During last night's vault, weren't you kind of hoping that 37-year-old, six-time Olympian Oksana Chusovitina would win in the end? Yeah yeah, we all had Maroney Mania, but how amazing would it have been to see Chusovitina nail down one last Olympic victory, twenty mind-boggling years after her first, in Barcelona? (She did win silver in Beijing too, so it's not like she's toiled unrewarded.) Maybe this is Olympic arrogance, a taking-for-granted confidence that the USA will win the most medals in the end so why not just throw out a few feel-good ones to other countries here and there, but whatever. International togetherness and generosity of spirit is what these crazy things are all about, right?
Obviously some people will disagree and deem anyone who doesn't unwaveringly cheer for their country somehow un-patriotic, but those people don't get it. When you've already won the all-around cookie, sometimes it's fine to hope someone else gets the crumbs.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.