This wasn’t about sporting drama. The Internet and my position as a sports editor had alerted me hours prior to NBC’s carefully editted tape delay broadcast of the evening’s golden outcome for Team USA.
No, Tuesday night was going to be about something much simpler — a father-daughter moment spent showing her that not all sports celebrities are male, that not all cheers are reserved for games with the word “ball” in their title. It was a chance to demonstrate that anyone who bounces and rolls around like she does on her most enthusiastically hyper 4-year-old days really can achieve something.
At least that was the plan.
Unfortunately for yours truly, Daddy’s Little Princess had spent much of the day already bouncing and rolling around outside in the summer heat, so when I got home from work, her eyelids were looking mighty heavy. Almost on cue, as the first strands of the Olympic anthem began to ring out from the television, she began to gather pillows and blankets into a small preschooler nest next to me.
Two rounds into synchronized diving coverage, she was sleeping peacefully — still further proof that she takes after her father.
Fortunately, NBC, in its eternal need to script Olympics coverage like one of its many failed primetime drama series, opted not to run gymnastics in Tuesday’s first hour. After all, anyone who has watched Olympic coverage in the last two decades knows that American gold is strictly reserved for the final hour of primetime.
So while I sat munching chicken and salad and questioning the sanity of anyone willing to jump off the equivalent of a three-story building into a tiny pool of water while tumbling and twisting, my date for the evening snored beside me. She was still out cold when the vault opened the gymnastics part of the programming and remained comatose for the uneven bar performances as well.
But she woke up in time for the start of the balance beam and the big night was on. Helping her stand on the back of the sofa, I took great care to help her balance, throwing her up in the air and twisting her and flipping her this way and that way in rough synchronization with the first televised U.S. routine in much the same way I had helped her emulate the figure skaters that had enthralled her two years earlier in the Winter Olympics.
As her feet touched down following her first father-aided dismount — a very technical double-squealing somersault with a brush of the ceiling and much wild arm flailing, I might add — she looked up at me, face suddenly serious, and said “I can’t do that” as she stomped back to her seat, refusing to take the “beam” for routine No. 2. I sighed and sat back beside her, silently wondering if Nadia Comaneci’s father endured something similar 45 years ago.
We watched the second, and then the third U.S. beam performance. The Russians didn’t help my budding young Olympic athlete’s confidence when they came on looking as steady on their feet as 2 a.m. traffic out of the bar district.
Nope, she was very convinced that she couldn’t do that. And, I was informed, it now looked scary.
Clearly this evening was not fostering the spark of inspiration that I had hoped.
The night was saved by a most unlikely source — a television commercial for the animated movie “Paranorman,” which showed a skeleton doing a pommel horse routine. Suddenly, gymnastics looked fun. And funny.
When the floor exercise followed the commercial break, she was ooh-ing and ahh-ing with each high-flying tumbling pass. She even made a few token crosses of the living room floor to demonstrate how high she could jump. By the time it was all done, she was clapping and cheering along with the crowd and waving to a mock audience of her own.
Maybe the night hadn’t gone quite as planned, but it had turned out well. Best of all, I even have a few years to figure out how to break it to her that the pommel horse isn’t a women’s gymnastics apparatus.