The Proper Age To Give Up On Your Summer Olympic Dream

In 2014 we discussed your Winter Olympics dreams and when you should let them die (short answer: already):

Remember watching the Olympics when you were a kid? There was a whole world of possibility! You could watch any sport and wonder whether maybe you had some innate gift for it and would be competing for your country in 20 years.

As you moved through your later childhood and teen years, your dreams had to die bit by bit. You’d realize that you weren’t even the best hockey player on your school’s team, or you’d fail to qualify for regionals in track. Maybe you shot up to a stocky 5’10 and realized you wouldn’t be much of a gymnast. Or maybe you didn’t get that far — maybe, by age 12 or so, you came to realize that you’re just … not athletic.

And yet, every two years – at the summer and winter Olympics – I start to get a little ahead of myself. Just like when I was five years old, I watch the events and wonder if maybe it’s not too late.

Well, friends, I’m here to kill those dreams. I’ve done a little research, and it looks like if you haven’t started most Winter Olympics events by a certain (usually young) age, you’ll never be using “next-level Tinder” in the Olympic village or wearing your country’s weird Cosby/teacher sweater in the Parade of Nations.

Obviously, there are exceptions to all of these. There really are savants who can take up a sport and be at a competitive level right away. There are also some people who are so preternaturally athletic that they’ll excel in any sport you throw at them. Of course, if you’re already skilled in a closely related sport, it’s also not that hard to take up a new one. 

We figured it was time to kill our Summer Olympic dreams, too (I’m almost 30 years old and really more into exercise than athletics). In case you were wondering, here’s when you should turn your dream into a dream deferred, focusing on individual sports for practical purposes:

Archery

Maybe it’s time to dust off that bow that you impulse-bought back in 2012 when you were really into the Hunger Games. Archery has one of the longest age ranges of any Olympic sport, with competitors reaching into their 50s. Sure, it’ll take some time, but if you show natural aptitude for it and practice a lot … maybe!

Canoeing

I have a kayak and it’s a really fun and easy activity. Olympic canoeing is maybe a bit more intense than my local rivers and streams, though? It also looks like so much fun. Most competitors are in their mid-20s, but some are a bit older. It’s probably easier and more enjoyable to canoe or kayak just for the fun of it, but there’s no harm in researching the (fairly intense) qualification system if you’re really good.

Cycling

Cycling seems like a sport that you could begin later. I mean, I’ve known how to ride a bike without training wheels since I was 4 and I think I can go pretty fast. It turns out I’m not quite wrong. Cycling is a sport that you can specialize in fairly late, and you can remain at an elite level throughout your 30s. The average age pro cycler is 28, but unlike some other sports many of the athletes weren’t competitive wunderkinds at age 15.

The great news is that cycling can be a lifelong activity and if your heart isn’t set on competing at the Olympics, there are road races for every skill level. I think an athletic, talented person could get a number of non-Olympic gold medals with the right drive and preparation. Go ahead. Hop on that bike and dream a little.

Equestrian

Here’s the thing about equestrian. You can keep doing it for a long time, but you also probably have to start fairly young, if only from a logistics standpoint. With all of the time, money and equipment involved, an adult simply is not going to start at learning how to hold onto the reins and work their way through the many competitive levels.

If you’re already good at riding horses, great! Don’t kill your dream – there are equestrian competitors in their 40s and 50s. If you’ve never been on a horse, maybe some amateur-level horseback riding classes and trail rides would be more fun.

Gymnastics

Did you know that Simone Biles, inspiration to millions, gold medalist widely considered the best gymnast of all time, was actually a late starter to gymnastics?

She was six.

If you’re old enough to read this, say farewell to your Olympic dreams. And if you’re already in gymnastics but you aren’t in elite training and competition by your early teens, forget it.

There’s a specific body type that’s optimal for gymnastics – short, muscular, flexible, light – and even if you’re really dedicated and talented, you’ll probably stall out if you get too tall to fly through the air with the greatest of ease.

Marathon

Good(ish) news! Marathon runners are thought to peak in their late 20s and early 30s, and since super long distances can have negative health implications for young teens, it’s not as though most competitors were running full marathons since they were 12 or anything. Let’s say you’re already a runner, maybe did cross-country for a while, make great times and are willing to train. There is the time and lifestyle thing, of course: if you’re in your 20s or 30s you might not be able to center your schedule around intense runs. But don’t let your age stop you – in Beijing, the US Women’s team was lead by two 35-year-olds. 

Eventually your joints will probably fail you and your aerobic capacity will decrease. However, like cycling I’m going to say that this is a sport where it’s okay to dream a little. There are so many marathons and half-marathons out there that if you’re talented and hard-working, you might find yourself qualifying for some of the big-name races even if you’re in your late 20s, 30s or 40s. Remember, an 84-year-old qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon.

Shooting

Maybe you’re a skilled hunter or live for your weekends at the shooting range. Are you Olympic-level good? Dream big, Annie Oakley. There are shooters in their 40s and 50s competing this year. Granted, it’s not incredibly easy to qualify – or easy at all – but if you measure yourself against the top shooters and can tell that you’re just as good, you might as well acquaint yourself with the International Shooting Sport Federation.

Swimming

Want to swim? You have a tad longer than some other sports: most swimmers get their feet wet as elementary-school kids at the YMCA or JCC, but a number of competitive swimmers didn’t start swimming seriously until high school or even college. Talent will not always show itself until a swimmer is much older: USA Swimming cautions that a fast 10-year-old will not always be a fast 18-year-old (nor a slow 10-year-old a slow 18-year-old). While not all swimmers are tall, most of them are, so if you’re short with a small wingspan it’s a good idea to put your dream to sleep before it suffers too much.

You can start late as a swimmer if you’re naturally talented and athletic, but don’t expect to stay in the sport forever. Did you hear the NBC commentators marveling that Michael Phelps could hoist himself from the swimming pool between gold-medal races? That’s because a 31-year-old swimmer isn’t the norm. Well, partially. It’s mostly because the NBC commentators are terrible.

Tennis

The great thing about tennis is that you can start playing as a tot and keep at it til you’re one of those old men with the tiny shorts on the public courts (seriously guys, why always such small shorts?). There are some anecdotal claims of college-level or competitive tennis players who started at age 11 or 15, so that’s heartening. Still, if you haven’t started some kind of training as a kid or teen, have fun on the courts but forget about the Olympics.

Trampoline

My personal love affair with the trampoline died around 1995, when I was doing that popcorn game where you sit down and let other kids bounce you … and I was the skinny kid … and I flew off the trampoline and broke my nose. I think a lot of trampoline dreams died the same way – backyard accidents before trampolines had all of the safety features they do now. If you somehow escaped broken limbs or stitches during your childhood and think Olympic trampolining is the life for you, I have some news you won’t like. Those fancy acrobatics are the result of years of gymnastics training, and the athletes cap out in their early 20s.


We kid about killing your dreams, of course — the only person who can kill your dreams is you. The great thing about most of these individual sports is that you can take them up at any age and even compete at a non-elite level. And if you want to motivate yourself by imagining Olympic glory while you practice? A little daydream never hurt anybody.

 

Pop Culture Phenomena Of The 1996 Olympics: Where Are They Now

Once an Olympic year has ended, most of the athletes move off of my radar. Within the next four years some of my favorites always retire. Others morph, within the span of 3 or 4 Olympic cycles, from teenage wunderkinds to competitors in their prime to the aging stalwarts of their field. I’m almost 30, so this year I am watching my dewy-faced peers from 2004 become respected veterans contemplating retirement.

Nothing highlights this passage of time more than the 1996 Olympic games. We have images burned into our memories of tiny teenage gymnasts accepting their gold medals, and it’s hard to fathom that they are now married mothers on the cusp of middle age. Tennis scamp Andre Agassi is 46. Michael Johnson works for Arsenal – imagine that.

I think we’re all a little stunned that the last summer Olympics to be hosted in the U.S. happened a full twenty years ago. Because of that, Where Are They Now features for the top athletes of the Atlanta games have abounded. I still had some unanswered questions, though: remember Whatizit? Where’d they put the cauldron? And does Bela Karolyi still think I can do it? Let’s investigate:

Whatizit

Izzy, officially known as Whatizit, was the baffling, bug-eyed mascot of the ’96 games. I’m not sure why the Olympic Mascot can never just be, like, a regular cartoon kitten or an animated tiger, but for whatever reason they always go for amorphous CGI blobs – a tradition that started with Izzy. Prior to the Atlanta Games, mascots always were cute or at least identifiable, but the new millennium was on the horizon and we were really proud every time we managed to computer-generate something.

In the 20 years since the Atlanta Olympics, Izzy’s legacy has endured. The 2004 mascot: an abstract take on an ancient Greek doll; looks like a BBC cartoon from the late 80s that PBS would air before Mr. Rogers. 2008: I don’t even get it, they each correspond to a word of Welcome To Beijing but ALSO to five elements but ALSO they bear a wish but ALSO they represent the color of the Olympic rings. Obviously had quite a committee there. 2012: just terrible; standing blobs more or less. Look what Izzy started.

After the games, Izzy appeared in a 1997 special, Izzy’s Quest for Olympic Gold, which aired on TNT one time. There was a computer game (on CD Rom, naturally) and a video game (Super Nintendo, as was the fashion).

As of 2016, Whatizit can be found on eBay for relatively uninflated prices, since nobody really liked him (her?) in the first place.

The Cauldron

In 1996, Muhammad Ali lit the cauldron and ushered in the modern Olympic Games on their 100th anniversary.

Cut to 20 years later, and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young is calling the cauldron an “embarrassment” and comparing it to “the bridge over the river Kwai.”

Basically, a bunch of architects were put into a team to design the cauldron. The result was kind of funny looking, further illustrating why group work is the actual worst. GROUP WORK. Ugh.

The Cauldron is now perched on the edge of Turner Field at the top of some kind of a steel staircase that looks like the steps to a water slide.

 

The Macarena

The Macarena fad celebrates its 20th birthday this year, but in 1996 it was the cool dance craze sweeping the nation. Delegates at the Democratic National Convention bounced along, every kid in America knew the steps, and – in what I will call the high point of its existence – the Magnificent 7 performed the dance at the gymnastics arena. Somehow, Dominique Moceanu even manages to move her hands like she’s doing that weird vogue stuff they always do in the corner during a floor exercise. Shannon Miller rounds it off with a sassy flip. Kerri Strug avoids putting weight on her ankle, still in a brace after her injury. Dominique Dawes, objectively speaking, is the best at it.

Macarena quickly met the fate of all cool dance crazes: old people learned how to do it, it became terminally dorky, and it is now standard fare at weddings.

Bela Karolyi

We’re not discussing athletes here, but coaches are fair play. Besides, in the public sphere Karolyi was not just a coach, he was a pop culture phenomenon. Remember how the phrase “you can do it” took off as a catch phrase after Bela encouraged poor, injured Kerri to finish her event?

As could be expected, in the years that follows allegations of Karolyi’s harsh – even abusive – coaching style began to surface. He became the team coordinator of USA Gymnastics, publicly reviled for his intensive camps while still somewhat respected for his professional success. Karolyi’s wife Marta became the U.S. team coordinator in 2001, a position she still holds. Bela has served as a gymnastics commentator occasionally and continues to own the infamous Ranch. A NBC Sports documentary about the Karolyis is forthcoming.

The Olympic Village

I don’t have the talent, drive, or correct height to become any kind of Olympic athlete, but I would give anything to experience the international camaraderie of the Olympic Village. It always seems like such a downer to see photographs of the village months and years after the games – abandoned, crumbling into ruin, a waste of planning, budget and infrastructure.

But not in Atlanta! The city built athletic facilities with the future in mind, then retrofit them for the games. As a result, almost all of the sites are in use today (except for the tennis courts, which don’t look great.)

My favorite reuse has to be the Olympic Village dormitories, which are now Georgia Tech housing. I can think of no better afterlife for Olympic dorms – I’m just trying not to think about how most of the people using them now weren’t even alive for the ’96 games.

 

All The Best Uniforms At The Rio Opening Ceremonies

It’s almost time for the Rio Opening Ceremonies, and you know what that means – costumes.

Okay, more specifically the Parade of Nations, where the athletes from the participating countries process into the arena wearing some kind of weird modern take on their national dress, like muscly Madame Alexander dolls or a sexy It’s A Small World ride.

I love it.

While a number of countries have released photos of their team uniforms – especially when there’s a high profile sponsor involved – it’s too soon to tell which looks will make the Parade of Nations. Still,here are a few to keep your eye out for:

Great Britain in Stella McCartney/ Adidas

Who’s making redcoats redder? Stella McCartney, I guess. I’m just so thrilled we can finally bring back Britain’s colonial-era nickname. The Adidas uniforms forego the typical Union Jack in favor of a coat of arms combining the thistle, rose, leek and flax, as well as a lion, the national animal of England even though England doesn’t have lions. The fabric is lightweight and there are fun leggings. The female athlete third from the right is not impressed.

I still can’t believe they make Wales be a leek. Pee-ew.

Canada in Hudson’s Bay and D-Squared

 

There are a lot of stereotypes about Canada and one of them is that Canada doesn’t really have cities. That’s why it’s so fun to see Canada go a little urban with their outfits. It’s a real mix-and-match collection combining smart jackets, jaunty track suits and even graphic tees. If I have one complaint it’s that the pants look weirdly saggy at the knee – but just look at what they’re wearing for the Opening Ceremonies:

South Korea

If I were an Olympic athlete, I would proudly compete in a prison jumpsuit or footie pajamas if it was Zika proof. Lucky for South Korea, their uniforms are fairly cute AND Zika-repellant. I like the uniforms to the right, like they’re activity leaders at a nice country club. The slim fit cropped pants are cute.

Here’s where I was going to complain about socks with boat shoes, but ZIKA. Gotta cover those ankles. Good job.

Sweden in H&M

There’s so much to love. First of all, that Sweden is wearing H&M. Second, that a relatively small(-ish) Scandinavian country can be one of the world’s biggest exporters of cool fashion and musicians. Third, these fabrics are sustainably produced and recycled. I love that there’s a fun athletic dress and the leggings and socks are just too good.

Spain

They look great – almost like street clothes but a bit more polished, with sassy scarves and tie clips. The woven belts are excellent too, and the contrasting accents on the blazers and the buttons.

I do wonder why, in a world where red and blue seem to be the most popular national colors, a country that actually has a different color scheme going for it opts for red and blue.

Italy in EA7 by Emporio Armani

Unlike Spain, I can’t even quibble that these aren’t the national colors (except for the bits of red and green on the collar) because the black and white just feels so Italian. The giant 7s are the most conspicuous branding I’ve seen so far on the team uniforms, but it also can kind of just read as some stripes maybe?

Brazil 

Say what you will about Brazil’s preparedness or suitability to host the 2016 games: there is a special place in my heart for a country that will deck men out in florals. Granted, I was even more excited when I thought that the ascot was the lining of his blazer instead.

France in Lacoste

Remember when you wouldn’t see a fashionable, city-dwelling European caught dead in athletic wear in public? The recent trend for sleek, well-designed athleisure clothing has turned that around a bit, and France’s simple and tidy look shows how well it can be done.

USA in Ralph Lauren

Not my favorites, but not horrible; these get points for the sheer American-ness of red-white-and-blue stripes and pushed up sleeves on Oxford shirts.

Australia

The word Slytherin has been thrown around a few times for these uniforms, as has “ice cream lady.” But me? I just hope they make it back to Malibu Sands in time to help Stacey Carosi’s dad out at the big volleyball tournament.

 

Most teams haven’t released photos of their uniforms yet, so tune into the Opening Ceremonies tonight to find out who the REAL best-dressed are.