I was wrong. Privately, I was dismissive of the Olympics this year, especially when it came to tennis. I held to tired truisms: tennis already has four major championships every year, it’s really a game for individuals, the Olympics don’t offer ranking points or prize money.
The week before, as more top players pulled out, I became more smug about my stance. In the first few days of the tournament, after the Williams sisters and Novak Djokovic lost early in singles, I did not bother to find out which television channel was showing the matches. When I finally did, I sniffed to my husband, “The venue looks more appropriate for USTA [United States Tennis Association] league championship matches than the Olympics.”
By the end of the week, though, I had my Grinch on top of Mount Crumpit moment. Instead of disgruntled, disappointed tennis professionals leaving the Rio courts, I instead saw players giving everything they had and then some. I could not take my eyes off of Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro. Here were two athletes hitting one breathtaking angle after another and showing enough heart to fill the stadium for over three hours. When Juan Martin won the semifinal and kissed the court, I began to choke up.
By the time they finished, I had already run six of the 12 miles I had planned this past Saturday for my marathon training. It didn’t matter at that point that I was watching a sport instead of doing one. I thought I would cover the rest on the treadmill during our family YMCA day. Guess what? I ran 14.5. Why? Because I could not leave the treadmill and its small TV screen until I saw Monica Puig clinch the gold medal against Angelique Kerber. I also wanted to know why Monica was competing for Puerto Rico rather than the United States, so I learned some history about why Puerto Rico is regarded as its own country under the Olympic Charter.
Yesterday I watched the all-American mixed doubles final. Earlier this week, I had written a bit sentimentally about Venus Williams perhaps having seen her best days as a player. I now know I was confused about my legs taking longer to cover miles and trying to show solidarity as an aging athlete. Of course I was wrong again! Venus, having recovered from a virus earlier in the week, looked fresh as most 20-year-olds as she and Rajeev Ram narrowly lost to Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock. Venus has now tied the Olympic mark for most medals won in tennis. I would not be surprised if she played again in four years. All four finalists, who had won gold or silver medals, looked like they had won Wimbledon.
So this morning, as I head into a very busy four months at work that coincide with gearing up for my 18th marathon, I’m having an Olympics tennis letdown which I never expected. Time to turn to the track and field athletes and thank them for inspiring me to embrace many more miles.