Swifter, Higher, More Nerve-Wracking / by Courtney Mehlhaff

So I'm pretty sure I should never be allowed to watch the Olympics.

I don't mean that I should only be granted access to the highlights to prevent me from wasting entire days and nights watching the full coverage (which I do). I mean there should be a media blackout every two years, and only in my apartment. You may be thinking, "Why would Courtney need a Costas-free zone?  She's not athletic in the least!" Well, here it is: When it comes to the Olympics, I just get too invested.

It's those damn inspirational featurettes on all the athletes that does me in. Really, in the end, I'd rather not know what hardship or disease or injury or tragedy that ski jumper overcame to get to this point ... this twenty seconds that cost him the last twenty years of his life ... this split second that will define his entire career. It's too much pressure, for him and for me. But now I'm in it with him. Curse you, NBC!  You made me care.

Figure skating and gymnastics are almost unbearable for me, although of course I watch them, sometimes through my fingers. It's just too much heartbreak, people. Too much drama. Last night I heard myself say on more than one occasion, "I think I'm gonna throw up." This is a phrase that should never be associated with something as innocuous as a triple salchow.

These are the two things that come out of my mouth most often while watching Olympic coverage (other than outrageous bursts of profanity; much like when I play video games, I simply cannot be held responsible for my language during sporting events):

1.  "GO-GO-GO-GO-GO!"  I shout this without even knowing it, at an insane volume, and it apparently applies to all situations in all sports.

2.  "Oh, look how happy they are!" Invariably I find myself weeping along with the competitors and their families, even if I'd previously been rooting against them.

And I do root against them, because for some reason, I'm all about that effing medal count. I'm not proud of it, and I'm not typically uber-nationalistic, but I watch that tally like a hawk ... or an eagle, as the case may be.

I don't know where this competitive streak comes from, because I don't rabidly follow sports on a regular basis (with the exception of World Cup Soccer, but that's only every four years, so some spectacular enthusiasm is practically mandated). I loves me some Roger Federer, and I'm a fair-weather Twins fan, but you won't find me painted up in the stands somewhere, waving a flag like a crazy person.

Here's the thing about me, though. Maybe it's because I'm a bit ambivalent, but I can really get invested in any sport. Even if I have no idea what's going on, I just have to pick a side and go with it. When I was in Ireland, I was enthralled with cricket. In Japan, I was glued to those sumo tournaments. I can even sit with my dad and watch NASCAR for an afternoon. So maybe my mania is purely situational.

I'll end with Exhibit A for why my Olympic viewing privileges should be revoked, and I hate to admit it, but this is true. In 2004, I was watching the Athens games, and the US men's relay swimming team was battling Australia for the gold. (This was the precursor to the Phelps fever that hit Beijing in 2008, during which my friends and I cheered so loudly that we blatantly woke up a baby.)

I'm standing in my living room, crouched slightly, very intent on the action unfolding on the TV, and suddenly the US wins, and I, in some random burst of childlike joy, decide that an appropriate spontaneous celebration would be to yelp and leap into the air. With my fists stretched straight up in victory. Which, combined with my freakishly long monkey arms and my jump, made me roughly 8' 3".  I had 8' ceilings. Covered in popcorn finish.

Here's what happened: I managed not only to take a chunk out of the ceiling, but also to take most of the skin off all my knuckles. So as Michael Phelps was climbing out of the pool, I was standing amid a shower of bloody plaster. But you know what? I was still happy.

Plus, in the days that followed, when people asked me what the hell happened to my hands, I could shrug and say matter-of-factly, "Bar room brawl." And that, my friends, was as good as gold.