This weekend I took The Pea to see Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and I have to agree with everyone who thinks the book is far superior to the movie. But I enjoyed it anyway, mostly because I have a soft spot for Pierce Brosnan, Kevin McKidd, and Greek mythology. The stories of Zeus and Poseidon, Jason and the Argonauts, Perseus and Medusa were very real to me when I was The Pea's age, and I would have embraced the notion that the ancient gods are alive and well today. Besides, with modern-day Olympians breaking speed records, defying gravity and generally doing things mere mortals would be crazy to try, it's not hard to believe there are demigods running around Vancouver right this very minute!
Take, for example, the god of speed. I'm not talking about Hermes, or even Nike; as far as I'm concerned, that honor belongs to Apollo -- Apolo Anton Ohno, that is. World-class speed skater, World Champion, Olympic Champion and Dancing with the Stars Champion? You bet he's a god! With the Winter Olympic games just about halfway through, Ohno has become my family's undisputed Favorite Hero of Vancouver XXI (or Vancouver κα´, since we're talking Ancient Greek, not Ancient Roman). Apolo Ohno now has seven medals over three Olympic games, making him the most decorated US Winter Olympian ever -- and for all you party-poopers who say only two of those are gold, I say, Watch short track skating and you'll see what it took to get those medals . It's so volatile, a gold-medal position can turn into a last-place finish in seconds (and vice versa). We've been Tivo'ing every single minute of NBC's Olympics coverage, and somehow we always find ourselves fast-forwarding to short track skating. It's easily the most exciting winter sport, and it's all because of Apolo Ohno and his edge-of-your-seat-pee-in-your-pants performances.
Part of Apolo's appeal is that he doesn't look like your typical speed skater. His red bandana and goatee give him a laid back look, more like a skateboarder or a member of a garage band. But an athlete who wears those skintight superhero suits? Nah. Seeing him warm up before a race, you wouldn't think he was a serious threat at all. While the other skaters seem full of nervous energy, Apolo looks detached, calm to the point of boredom. For God's sake, all he does is yawn!
Even when the race has started, he hangs back, content to stay in 3rd or 4th place for an agonizingly long time. Does he know how tense he's making his audience? Does he know that everyone watching is muttering, "Pass, pass, pass! Do it now or you'll be too late!"? Then, just as I'm about to draw blood from my nails digging into Alfie's arm, the thought seems to occur to him that the race is about to end, and he'd better get going -- and in a matter of seconds, you see him scuttle to the front, like it took no effort whatsoever. You feel stupid for even doubting that he could do it. Then, with 2 or 3 laps to go (and me already emotionally drained), the real excitement begins. People start bumping into each other and taking each other down (That's when I start the screaming and Alfie begs me to shut up before the neighbors call the cops). But somehow Apolo Ohno manages to find a way to hang in there. When he slipped in the 1,000 meter final and fell into last place, I thought he was done for -- I honestly don't even know how he stayed up -- then with less than a lap to go, he skated the sprint of his life, passing two Canadians to get the bronze. The buildup of tension, the release... if my kids weren't watching the race with me I'd say it was almost orgasmic.
The only part of Apolo that isn't godlike? He doesn't seem proud at all. He seems like a genuine nice guy who's delighted to get a medal, whatever the color. When it comes to heroes, you don't get more inspiring than Apolo Anton Ohno, and when he skates in the 500 meters and the 5,000 meter relay we'll be cheering him on and praying to the gods for his victory.
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