Sometimes I cry, as I did when I was a kid. Only nowadays I contain the tears to the good stuff: Movies with happy endings. Kids alone on a stage, hitting every note of a song. Graduations, weddings, that kind of thing.
While listening to Hall of Fame acceptance speeches, my throat usually knots somewhere between “thank” and “you.”
And then there’s the Olympic Games. No matter how little I know about the event – fencing, for instance – if a U.S. athlete is atop the medal podium, and the American flag is raised to the tune of the Star-Spangled Banner, I’m usually in pieces.
But I never was in pieces during the London Games that concluded Sunday. The U.S. did well in general, and specifically flourished in women’s team sports If the Americans didn’t own the podium, they were on good terms with the landlords.
My eyes saw Old Glory raised dozens of times, and yet they stayed dry.
What gives? Have I lost the pride I’ve always felt as an American?
I think I miss those days when the U.S. was seen as underdogs to the Eastern European sports machines that identified potential gold-medal winners before their seventh birthday. I miss American athletes bursting from obscurity.
I miss those Olympics when the world didn’t look at the U.S. as the New York Yankees, who are supposed to win, expected to win, and better win, or else heads will roll.
I’m all for the pursuit of perfectionism, but when a teenager can’t muster the enthusiasm to smile after receiving a silver medal, something is wrong.
Gymnast McKayla Maroney, 16, was favored to win the women’s vault competition last week.
But she didn’t land on her feet, and finished second to the Romanian who did. Maroney’s indifferent expression with her fellow medalists was awkward – they were thrilled, she was peeved – and the eerie scowl she brought to the awards podium was difficult to watch.
She’s only a teenager, attempting to cope with the disappointment of her life: finishing second in the world. Maroney’s comportment on the Olympic platform needs work, but I don’t mean to make her a pariah.
Still, the snapshot lingers: A sullen U.S. athlete is forced to settle for a silver medal, while the Eastern European athlete, out of nowhere, celebrates the joyousness of the competition.
I’m glad about the U.S.’s world-leading medal haul, which surpassed triple figures a day before the men’s basketball team put its finishing touch on a tournament that offered no peers.
“The American public has high expectations for our Olympic teams and our Olympic athletes,” United States Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst told reporters at a press conference Saturday. “A lot of people projected that we’d finish second and maybe even third, so we’re proud of what our team has accomplished.”
I’m proud, too, but over the past two weeks, only one achievement by the U.S. found me proud enough to cry.
It happened not in London but on the Gale Crater of Mars, where Curiosity – a robotic rover the size of a car – plunged through the planet’s atmosphere intact. After almost nine months and 350 million miles in space, Curiosity landed within a mile and a half of its target.
“An unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future,” president Barack Obama said of Curiosity’s successful mission. “It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.”
At NASA’s Mars Space Laboratory in Los Angeles, American scientists celebrated the landing as if they were football fans cheering a winning field goal.
Only this wasn’t a field goal. This was a touchdown, and the sound of the giddy scientists who made it happen remains indelible.
The U.S. ruled the world in London, and here’s to the athletes responsible for most impressive Olympic Games performance in memory.
But it was an astonishing mission into another world, 350 million miles away, that made me proud to be an American.firstname.lastname@example.org