By Meg Walburn Viviano
The Summer Olympics: the time every few years when we remember a whole list of sports we had entirely forgotten about—and the stars of said sports become our heroes for a few weeks. We watch an entire delegation of Americans who have managed to become the best in the nation at something. Whether it’s swimming or gymnastics, skateboarding or table tennis, these athletes have risen above 332 million other U.S. citizens just to earn a spot in the Games.
As a hobby distance runner, I watch the men’s and women’s track events, the marathon, and the triathlon in awe, knowing how much training and dedication it takes to run even half as fast. As a former NCAA Division 3 rower, I watch the rowing events knowing just how much power, speed and precision is behind every stroke.
I saw a meme this week which first circulated during the 2016 Rio Olympics that reads, “Every Olympic event should include one regular person competing, for reference.” The quote was attributed to Bill Murray, though I haven’t fact-checked it. I appreciate the notion, as I imagine myself competing in the Olympic marathon, running a personal-record time and still finishing an hour and six minutes behind the gold medalist at Rio in 2016.
What’s amazing about the Olympics is that the majority of the athletes (except for, perhaps, the U.S. basketball team, made up of star NBA players) really are regular people—aside from their extraordinary skill set. The fencers and the badminton players perform their sport at the highest level, to the fascination of TV viewers. Then they sink back into relative obscurity from mainstream sports fans for another four years, training relentlessly for their next moment in the sun.
Annapolis native and Olympian Farrah Hall gets a literal moment in the sun: she’s a windsurfer (https://bayweekly.com/going-for-gold/). At press time the RS:X athlete is midway through her 12 races in Tokyo. At this point she’s higher in the standings than she’s ever been in past Olympic standings, but the competitors’ performances this weekend will determine her fate. Then, the 39-year-old must decide whether to retire or mount another campaign for the 2024 Olympics. (Yes, she refers to it as a campaign, and like a presidential candidate, athletes mount a full four-year effort to get to the Olympics.)
For all the work they put into being the best in the world, Hall and the other athletes we see on the international stage get one big reward: inspiring young people to work hard, too. And they do: a next generation of athletes is already rising through the ranks. Right here in Chesapeake Country, a group of acrobatic gymnasts just placed a stunning seventh in the world for gymnasts aged 12–18. Be sure to read our feature story to hear how these young teens actually made training through the pandemic work to their advantage—and did the entire U.S. gymnastics community proud. Just like the Olympians in Tokyo, they’ll keep pushing and training. And in another four years, who knows how much they’ll accomplish?