Reflections on the 2012 Summer Olympics
Two weeks ago I spent the evening before my birthday watching the Opening Ceremonies at a local pub with close friends, both to kick-off the Olympics and my 29th year of life (and to help each other figure out what was happening in Danny Boyle’s production). Every evening our television has been set to NBC from eight to midnight. And Saturday we sang along with Freddy Mercury, Liam Gallagher, and Eric Idle (but not the Spice Girls…that was a bit too much for my husband).
Every Olympic year I am fascinated by little moments during the Games that expose humanity’s capacity for connection and emotion. During these two weeks the world shares an awe for the human spirit and strength, a unity that is hard to find at any other time. And surprisingly, there were a few commercials that exhibited this same spirit, though I hate to admit that I enjoyed anything that interrupted my viewing of beach volleyball.
Visa’s Go World Campaign: Nadia Comaneci’s Perfect Score
This Visa campaign was introduced featuring American athletes during the 2010 Winter Games, but when I saw this commercial for the first time during the Summer Olympics, it gave me chills. I love the grainy 1976 footage and Comaneci’s delicate arched dismount. I love (as always) Morgan Freeman’s warm and gentle voice. I love the script:
People had cheered for Good.
People had cheered for Great.
People had even cheered for Incredible.
But until Nadia Comaneci scored the first 10 in Olympic History, nobody had cheered for Perfect.
SO GOOD. I love that it celebrated a tiny 14-year-old girl from Romania – a fellow citizen of this earth that achieved something spectacular. Given NBC’s extremely USA-centric coverage this year, if it happened today we may not have even seen Comaneci’s uneven bars routine or her somewhat confusing score flashed onto the screen. A perfect score was inconceivable at the time, so Comaneci’s score read “1.00” – the scoreboard was not built to accomodate four digits. She would go on to receive six more perfect scores through the rest of the Games.
So often the phrase “The world mourns with you,” is passed around from leader to leader as the world continues to experience and share tragedies. But Morgan Freeman finishes the commercial with instructions to “Join our global cheer,” referencing the various opportunities viewers have to contribute to the world’s celebration on multiple Visa social media platforms. I love love love this: “Romania, Jamaica, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan – the world cheers with you!” Bittersweet that the message comes from a major corporation rather than world leaders, but regardless, it’s a cool message.
On any given day I am crippled by the horror stories of the world. But for once, it’s wonderful to focus on the parts of our planet that are still awesome and inspiring, if only for two brief weeks.
Proctor & Gamble: To Their Moms, They’ll Always Be Kids
Again, this was a campaign introduced with American athletes during the 2010 Winter Olympic, but for some reason it didn’t affect me until this year. And embarrassingly, it affected me a lot – I tear up almost every time. Even though a recent Huffington Post article took away some of my enthusiasm for Procter & Gamble’s cute commercials dedicated to Olympic moms, I still love this one in particular. It features 6-8-year-olds dressed in various Olympic uniforms walking into the Opening Ceremony, performing on a balance beam, at a post-event press conference, and preparing to dive off of a 10-meter platform. As the final little curly-haired boy prepares to leap, the music crescendoes and the scene cuts to his mom in the stands, inhaling with the crowd at the same quiet moment.
Start the waterworks.
My feelings towards the P&G ads echo those of the Visa commercials – both campaigns demonstrate the common connections we all share. Almost every athlete at the Olympics is the child of a parent (moms AND dads) who was there for every early morning practice, every injury, every competition, every failure, and every achievement. And every parent feels the same emotions watching their child fail or succeed. Watching the Russian gymnastics team sob after repeated mistakes during the team competition was heartbreaking – can you imagine what it felt like to watch as a parent? Just as we celebrate the strength of all of these athletes, so too do we hurt with them when something falls apart.
In a world with so much conflict and hate towards one another, I find it incredibly powerful to think that we are all the child of someone. We are all sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, and friends of someone – how could you hate another to the point of violence, greed, and apathy, if you could look at them as you look at your own child?
And that little boy shaving in the locker room? My heart strings are officially stretched out.
I hate to mention Nike only because they were EVERYWHERE during the Olympics, and for me, the “Find Your Greatness” slogan is a little forced. However, the baseball and diving versions are amazing. The image above is one of my favorite images of the Olympic advertising world (too bad it had to be an advertisement – it’s a great photo).
What really made me averse to promoting the Nike ads was not the ads themselves (see below for my enthusiasm for the baseball kid), but a Nike-endorsed episode following the completion of the final Women’s Soccer game…
As the USA women celebrated their gold medal victory, they were handed t-shirts to wear prior to the medal ceremony, much like what happens immediately after an NBA or NCAA championship game. Unfortunately, the shirts were inappropriate for an Olympics match and showed more tackiness than celebratory pride:
(In case you can’t read it, below the slogan it says, “United we stand.” Who stands united? The US? The team? Nike users?)
I don’t know who to blame, but I don’t blame the team. While I was happy for our girls, it ultimately left me feeling sad for the portrayal of our country – I don’t think the rest of the world found it endearing, I think they found it pompous.
There were other moments too that left a bitter taste in my sportsman’s heart, mostly from our own countrymen (I’m sure there were other episodes between members of foreign teams as well, but we were mostly exposed to the performance – on and off the field – of our USA athletes). I’ve never held much personal respect for some of the members of the USA men’s basketball team, especially after the blah-blah-blah of we’d wipe the floor with the 1996 Olympic team. Give me a break. Hope Solo and Brandi Chastain’s little Twitter tit-for-tat was annoying (can we pleeeease just suspend Twitter for the duration of the next Olympic games?), Dawn Harper’s and Kelli Wells’ griping over the lack of attention that instead went to a non-medaling Lolo Jones (can’t the in-fighting and jealousy wait until after the Games ladies?), and will someone in Jamaica tell Usain Bolt to tone it down with the arrogance? I want to slap that guy upside the head.
By contrast, I was pleasantly surprised by the camaraderie, humility, and joy of other athletes. Britain’s Jessica Ennis is my new favorite; not only do I want to have her incredibly in-shape body, but her tearful celebration after winning the gold medal in the heptathlon was magical. I was also impressed with the maturity of Michael Phelps – I expected more of the same cockiness we saw at the 2008 Olympics, but this time, despite his enormous gold medal achievement, he seemed very honest, appreciative, and humble in post-race interviews. And Missy Franklin, talk about a sweetheart. Watching her lips quiver while struggling to sing the national anthem during her gold medal ceremony was one of the most heartwarming moments of the Games for me. It was also super-fun to root for Bremerton native cutie Nathan Adrian during the swimming competitions, especially after seeing local commercials interviewing his also super-cute parents. “If you’re not going to practice, I have chores for you to do at home!”
And of course, Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh-Jennings. Sigh. So amazing to watch – so focused, so intelligent, and so dedicated to each other. I love watching their celebrations at the ends of matches, just full of pure joy. And this year, as the gold medal match was Misty’s last, Kerri could not stop crying. They were the epitome of hard work, talent, perseverance, friendship, and true greatness, t-shirts or no.
Now that the Games are over, a previously unknown void in my life is apparent – what am I now going to do with evenings empty of adrenaline rushes and epic triumph? Studying architectural contracts and building systems is a disappointing substitute. One thing I will be doing more of: running, in pursuit of those amazing Ennis abs…