I don’t feel entirely alone in this incessant NBC-watching. Given that Harvard is well, Harvard, we now go to school with Olympic medallists in women’s ice hockey and speed-skating. So it wasn’t unexpected when a twenty-first birthday party was interrupted by Daniel Weinstein ’03-’04 competing in the short-track speed skating race. I did find it a little odd that despite my never having set foot on an ice skating rink or anything more difficult than a green square mountain, I’ve been this deeply enthralled with events from snowboarding to the skeleton.
While sweating on the elliptical machine at the gym, completely absorbed by Giant Slalom ski racing on TV, I finally understood why Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen’s chance for a fourth gold medal in the biathlon mattered to me. As a friend hopped on the machine next to me, managing to distract me from the TV, I apologized for my unfriendliness and Olympic absorption. But then she popped a question that hadn’t ever occurred to me to ask myself.
“What sport would you want to be in the Olympics for?”
For a while, I couldn’t answer. I hadn’t even bothered to daydream about being in the games. True daydreaming is a rare art here at Harvard. Engaging in fantasy—from dreaming about being on a medal stand to becoming the Queen of England—doesn’t really happen once the ivy gates of ambition welcome us.
Our typical daydreams might consist of the glorious first apartment after the consulting bonus comes in or sitting behind a mahogany desk in a law office. But for a half-hour, inside a gym on a machine that mimics a rocking chair, I let myself engage in fantasy, my mind in Salt Lake City, envisioning my tough downhill race and my spot on the medal stand. I remember, now, why staring out the window in third-grade used to be so much fun. And I also understand why I’ve been so enchanted by spirit of the winter games.
The Olympics have always represented to me the pinnacle of athletic pride; replete with stories of devotion to excellence and overcoming tremendous barriers (and occasional totalitarian governments). Over the course of my 17-day affair with a set of five rings, I had been caught up in practical daydreaming for someone else. While I could never be Sarah Hughes, I could dream about her winning a gold if she made her triple lutzes.
But the most fun I’ve had watching the Olympics is when I’ve let myself imagine what it would be like to hear the national anthem played in front of a stadium full of people. The athletes deserve our thanks, not only for carrying the remains of a tattered World Trade Center flag but also for bringing out the best of America, for example Vonetta Flowers becoming the first black woman to win a gold in the winter games.
But I’m indebted to the games for an entirely different reason; I’ve learned that dreaming for the sake of dreaming has become a lost art in my programmed, future-focused life. So while I know I’m not going to be on a medal stand anytime soon, I’m certainly much more aware of the possibilities of teleporting from the chairs in Lamont Library to a Park City ski slope. And I urge you, instead of fantasizing about a 40 on your MCATs, try to dream about winning gold, even though some students here already have.