watching the olympics and rooting for the united states is not the same experience as watching the olympics and rooting for mexico. lord knows i carry both countries in my heart, and it’s obvious as an olympic gymnast’s dick that my statement is not controversial in the least.
the u.s. won more medals in the first ten minutes of the rio olympics than mexico won in the full fortnight. that might be hyperbole. mexico as a nation will not reach michael phelps’ gold medal total in my lifetime. that’s probably not hyperbole.
last friday afternoon presented a media moment that embodied the mexican-american/american-mexican dichotomy in olympic viewing. the final few kilometers of the women’s 20 kilometer walk coincided with the semi-final men’s basketball game between the u.s. and spain.
when they cut away from basketball to show race-walking
i have always felt awkward about mexico’s olympic relationship with the walk. 10 of mexico’s 67 medals all-time have come in race-walk events. the first olympics i watched from mexico was atlanta 1996. mexican athletes won 1 medal. in the face of the 101 medals the u.s. won in that olympiad, mexico’s lone bronze in the men’s 20k walk was not much to brag about to the folks back home.
it’s absolutely not a knock on the athletes who make the rigid commitment to dedicate huge chunks of their lives to a sport for a potential, unpromised moment of olympic glory. walkers are authentic athletes whose efforts merit respect and recognition.
but aesthetically, walking is a weird looking sport with rules that generate controversial disqualifications. the unintentional stanky leg that competitors start doing as fatigue sets in provokes a queasy kind of feeling in observers and while the chance to watch hips swaying and asses bouncing in a bikini bottom for 2 to 3 hours might attract some tv audience, sorry 20 kilometer walk, u are no beach volleyball.
is that race-walking technique? or the stanky leg?
so when the only channel (out of 8 channels of olympic coverage) showing the men’s basketball semi-final went split-screen with the women’s 20k walk (which was already on every other channel), i was frustrated.
quickly my frustration ceded, and i was torn. lupita gonzalez was in the mix, even leading; and there were only a couple kilometers left to walk. did i mention 67 medals all-time? spread over 23 olympics? every medal is a big dang deal in mexico. snap –all my emotion was behind lupita.
lupita’s silver was the first of a few medals collected by mexican athletes last weekend in rio. but it was a miserable two weeks that led up to the final weekend of triumph. there was a collective exasperation that the red, white and green might come home empty-handed.
used to the shenanigans of compayito and ponchito during olympic broadcasts on free networks televisa and tv azteca, the mexican public had to tough it out without jokes during this olympiad. the games were only on cable sports and public tv networks that offered no comedic distraction from the lack of medal production.
el compayito was not in rio.
it’s probably unnecessary to even mention that the u.s. men´s basketball team disposed of spain in the semi-final before walloping serbia to claim the gold medal. basketball is an aesthetically beautiful sport that has millions of fans around the world. it creates way more media hubub than race-walking.
i could give u a mini-bio on maybe every player who has suited up for the u.s. men’s basketball team since 1984, but i didn’t know anything about lupita’s toluca connection before watching her finish the race. she studied at the uaem and trained here in preparation for her olympic performance. it makes the moment that much more pertinent for t-towners like myself.
and when mexico’s first woman medalist in a walking event, still in the throes of post-race euphoria emphasized to a tv reporter that she never wanted to be a race-walker; that she settled on the walk after efforts in boxing and the 400m didn’t work out: that was a crucial glimpse behind the curtain. a mystical affirmation of those serendipitous 15 minutes that took me from screaming at the tv for pre-empting the basketball semi-final to shouting through the tv screen at lupita gonzalez to walk faster.
have fun, amigos.