It’s over. It’s really over. Somehow, in the blink of an eye, 4 years flew by since I felt this same oddly deflated feeling after the London Olympics and now here we are saying goodbye to another summer Olympics and starting the clock on another four years of waiting.
For many athletes, the Olympics really is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and across the board from swimming to gymnastics to the marathon are athletes who closed out an incredible journey in Rio.
But for many athletes – some who were the babies of their 2016 teams, others who didn’t exactly have the Olympics they trained for and didn’t even make it to the closing ceremonies before starting to think about Tokyo, and even more still who are working in the shadows just to get to an Olympic level – this is the start. I can just imagine them, looking at the 4 years ahead with hunger, raring to fill each of those 1400+ days with hard work and a perfectly-crafted training build-up. So while there is a feeling of emptiness when a 4-year build up and climax has come to an end, there is also a little bit of magic in the promise of a new journey and a blank slate.
My favorite sport to follow is women’s gymnastics, so if you are not a fan, bear with me for a moment.
The Olympics are an exciting time for gymnastics fans because the sport is getting so much attention, the athletes are in the best shape of their lives and we get to watch more gymnastics in two weeks than we normally do in an entire year.
Well, another incredible Olympics for our dominant USA girls is over now, and any fan will tell you that following gymnastics in the year after an Olympic games isn’t terribly exciting. Usually the Olympic stars aren’t competing much in that following year, as they have retired, gone to college, or are taking a well-deserved break to finish up touring and professional opportunities. That means that competitions are now flooded with up-and-comers and seniors who weren’t quite ready to make an Olympic team the year prior. Also, after each Olympics the FIG makes changes and updates to the Code of Points (which decides how valuable certain skills are), so gymnasts and coaches are now adjusting routines or creating totally new ones. Basically, it’s a rebuilding year, and it has a reputation for being competitively weak since most gymnasts are just emerging on the scene, starting their build-up, and debuting new routines.
But there is also something enjoyable about watching gymnastics in the early years of a “quad”. With the Olympic and veteran stars out of the spotlight, fans get the chance to see new faces and emerging talent and start following the careers of the sport’s future stars. It’s admittedly hard to get excited because it’s way too early to make Olympic predictions; there’s a good chance that the stars of the Tokyo team won’t even be on the radar for the next 2-3 years. But I like the freshness of it all, the feelings of a blank slate and a new chapter that permeate each competition.
One person I’ll have my eye on is young senior Ragan Smith, who was an alternate for the 2016 team. While Ragan dazzled at Trials and showed the world how much talent is in her tiny frame, she was just a little too green to make an Olympic team this time around. But you can tell by watching her perform that she is bursting at the seams with potential. I imagine how wonderful it must have been for her to go to Rio for the Olympic experience without the pressure of competing. The inspiration from that experience plus all the potential she has will make her one to watch in the build up to Tokyo, for sure!
The closing out of another Olympic quad makes me reflect on my own journey, as well. This Olympics is unique in that for the first time, my life is basically the same as it was 4 years ago during the London Olympics. I’m in the same city basically living the same life as I was in August 2012. I actually got offered my job the same day Gabby Douglas won the all-around – August 2, 2012 – so that date will always stick out in my mind. I’m still at the same job although my duties have evolved since then. I’ve moved to a new apartment but I’m still in Milwaukee and have been living in the same duplex for 3.5 years now. I’ve grown up a little, gone through several haircuts and wardrobe changes, and picked up this little “running” thing, but that’s about it. 2012, however, was a huge change from 2008, when I had just wrapped up an internship in DC and was getting ready for my senior year of college, George W. Bush was still president, and we still lived in our old house back in Iowa.
So now, naturally, I’m looking at the next 4 years ahead, wondering if, when the Tokyo opening ceremonies commence in all their firework-y glory, I want to have the same realization I’m having this year that nothing has really changed in the last 4 years. Maybe that’s part of growing up – the older we get, the less our lives change, with fewer big milestones to break up the general monotony of adult life. Or maybe this is a great time to ask: where do I want to be when I’m watching the Tokyo games in 4 years? Who do I want to be?