' Cinema Romantico: To The Unknown Olympian

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

To The Unknown Olympian

In a semifinal of the Men’s 200 Meter Breaststroke at the London Olympics NBC play-by-play man Dan Hicks noted that a Brett Fraser of the Cayman Islands had surged to the early lead. My initial thought was: Really? The Cayman Islands has a swim team? Isn’t that the place where prospective crooks in the U.S. are always wiring transfers of large sums of money? To wit, during commercials of NBC’s coverage on Sunday night I occasionally flipped over to the mindless flick “Runaway Jury” and there was a scene in which Rachel Weisz called upon villainous Gene Hackman to wire a large sum of money to a bank in – you guessed it! – The Cayman Islands. But nope, here was Brett Fraser, Cayman Islander, leading an Olympic race that included American and NBC golden boy Ryan Lochte.

What next caught my attention was the way in which NBC color man Rowdy Gaines immediately dismissed Hicks’ call that Fraser had surged to the lead. Gaines said something to the effect of: Yeah, but Fraser doesn't have a chance in hell. And immediately Gaines re-focused on the efforts of Lochte and the other American in the race, Ricky Behrens. Gaines turned out to be right. Fraser faded, finished sixth in the heat and that left him out of the event final. Outta sight, outta mind – well, at least out of the minds of NBC. (After the fact I learned that Fraser also competes for the University of Florida.)

Brett Fraser: The Cayman Cannonball
Me? I couldn’t stop picturing a sports bar on a picturesque Cayman beach with turquoise water glittering in the nearby distance, turquoise water that the locals did not even notice because, you know, they’re LOCALS and see that friggin’ water every day and who cares when their boy Brett is on the TV screen and competing in the Olympics?! Did they roar approval when Fraser surged to the lead? Did they shout encouragement they knew he could not hear, though they hoped he could sense thousands of miles away, as he faltered? Did their hearts crack when they realized his time would not be enough to send him onward to the finals?

In an effort to assuage my growing Olympic fever earlier this month I turned to David Maraniss's book "Rome 1960" which chronicled the famed Summer Olympics of said year. There is much revealing information tucked within its girth but one passage that stayed with me was this: "That is how most Olympic athletes finish, unknown and unseen, away from the glare of media hype and patriotic hope." I thought of that phrase as Rowdy Gaines shrugged off this Brett Fraser.

Later during the women’s gymnastics competition there came a moment when an American was on the floor exercise. The camera, of course, was focused entirely on her exploits. But in the background I caught a brief glimpse of another competitor, a competitor in red. I do not know her name and I do not what country she represented but I could see that as she performed her routine on the balance beam, she fell. She stood there for a moment, no doubt disbelieving and devastated. Even though I had no idea who she was I could not help but feel awful.

Then the camera moved on and she disappeared.

No comments: