My first memory of an Olympic sporting event was, appropriately enough, of news reports of the United States national basketball team's (relatively) terrible performance in Athens. That I followed these news reports while on summer vacation in China is probably symbolic of why I am drawn back to watching the Olympics repeatedly. For me, the Olympics are about identity: it might not be the case that this is true for everyone, and indeed, like everyone else, I too enjoy the thrill of sport's greatest performing over the course of about two weeks on the world's biggest stage. But even as early as 2000, back when I was only 10 years old and I was in my grandfather's Beijing apartment, watching coverage of the bidding process for the 2008 Olympics and Beijing's subsequent win, it is hard for me to separate the Olympics from the sense of who I am and the journey to get there. It probably doesn't help that there are always points of nationalistic pride on the line, which, while admittedly worth only slightly more than reddit karma, makes me pretty conflicted every 4 years (it's not that hard when China's not that great at winter sports), and it's certainly exacerbated by the fact that for the foreseeable future China and the United States will be fighting it out for whatever metric determines first place for an event that is ostensibly not about which nation wins or loses.
All of this is to say I really enjoy watching the Olympics, work and school be damned. This year, though, it was a little harder given the fact that I don't have cable, I work full time, and so couldn't catch everything like in years past. Fortunately, enough live streams and sheer willpower meant that I did catch my fair share of sport, and my preference for reading also allowed me plenty of information about this most recent round of games. This, of course, meant watching a lot of Olympic soccer, basketball (especially basketball), swimming, tennis and track and field events. For what it was worth, this marked quite a change from 2008, not only because then I saw a few events live, but also because back then I could lazily lounge around and switch between multiple channels to catch strange and exciting once-every-four-year sports like rifle shooting and weightlifting.
Still, this year didn't disappoint. Even with my limited connectivity issues, Andy Murray, Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, the US men's national basketball team, and the US women's national soccer team provided all of the thrills you'd want out of the Olympics. The times I was genuinely excited during these past few weeks were numerous.
Some will complain that these games weren't that great, with issues like numerous empty seats, controversies in multiple sports (including, it appeared, every single match of men's boxing), but those things will happen when you assemble thousands of athletes with thousands of competitions. Every time the Olympics come around I am reminded not only of the joy of athletics but of what I value. It might sound stupid, but I truly believe in the Olympics and their message holds special meaning for me.