Pictured: Soohorang (left), the mascot of the 2018 Winter Olympics, and Bandabi (right), the mascot of the 2018 Winter Paralympics. The following is an excerpt from the ‘If We Were Riding’ newsletter, ep. 20. Read the rest of the newsletter here.

by Kelly O’Mara

One summer when I was a kid — it must have been during the ’92 Olympics — I spent an afternoon “practicing” being an Olympic diver, jumping in and out of the apartment complex pool over and over. Somewhere in my head, I heard the judges from the TV and imagined them critiquing my form. In the kind of logic that seemingly strikes seven-year-olds at random, I decided that in order to be better, the best, I had to be brave and jump closer to the edge of the pool.

Yes, this story ends with lots of blood and stitches. But I’ve managed to block most of that out. What I do remember is sitting in the emergency room watching the rest of the Olympics broadcast on the small hospital TV.

It’s maybe not surprising that when the Games came to Atlanta, I cried until my mom said we could go. This was back when you had to mail in a paper form to enter a lottery for tickets. We were selected for tickets to track and field, volleyball, and baseball. Baseball? Who cares. We’re at the Olympics.

It doesn’t take a psychology degree to figure out some of the reasons I loved the Olympics as much as I did. As a sports-obsessed kid, I played everything, tried everything. Yet, here was the rare time when I actually saw female athletes like me at the center of attention, on primetime, with the world watching. This isn’t what consciously drew me to the Games. I was as obsessed with the male swimmers as with the female soccer players. I loved everything about it all. But, still, come on, this is some Psych 101 stuff here. There’s no way, when I was smashing my chin into the side of the pool as I pretended to be a diver, that it wasn’t a little bit because for the first time I could really truly imagine I might be one of these women.

Actually, most of the Olympics is some Psych 101 stuff, tapping into our most basic emotions. And I still love it all.

With that in mind, this week’s newsletter is mostly about the Olympics. On the podcast on Friday, Sara and I will discuss our favorite moments so far, how you can go watch the Olympics (whoo Los Angeles!), and why exactly people don’t get as into the Winter Olympics as the Summer.

Yes, this is a photo of me running the Olympic torch on its way to Salt Lake City back 2002. Yes, I still have that torch. And, yes, one of my cats knocked it over and partially shattered it.

That little kid in me totally got teary again this weekend when Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple axel in the Olympics. It was the picture of her screaming after and the reactions of her teammates and the blowing up of the whole damn internet that made me want to laugh and cry. Just go to her Twitter feed, or read about how she and teammate Adam Rippon spent the opening night of the Sochi Olympics eating their feelings with In n’ Out, and now here they are.

Actually, read anything about Adam Rippon. I love his interviews. I love his Twitter jokes. I love that people love him and what he means for them as the first openly gay athlete (and, yes, I recognize we’re leaning heavily on the word “openly” there, but that’s the reality of the world). And I love that he and everyone else got excited for Chloe Kim’s snowboard gold.

Also, I love Chloe Kim. One of my favorite things about the Olympics is the shared cultural moments, the fact that we’re all watching the same things at the same time. A friend wrote a piece for Wired about the inevitability of Olympics spoilers now and how we have to change how we watch the Games. And, it’s true, it’s all so piece-meal now, live-streaming and internet recaps, and so much taped footage on my DVR I can’t keep up. But, sometimes still, like on Monday night, everyone in the country stops and watches at the same time as a 17-year-old girl drops a crazy halfpipe run.

What’s been your favorite things so far?

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