Tag Archives: olympics

How do I know that I know what I’m doing?

I always think about people with really obscure talents, like in the Olympics, all of these sports that I’ve never heard of. How do you get to be so good at something that most of the world doesn’t even know exists? Take curling for example, right, it’s really popular in Canada, and so they’ve got really good curlers. The US has a team, but are American curlers really any good?


What I mean is, we’ve got a huge country, much bigger than Canada. Shouldn’t we have a bigger talent pool to draw from? Statistically, yeah, but curling isn’t super popular here, and so we’re kind of stuck with the people that happen to be involved in the top level of American curling.

I’m a big believer in practice, that if you keep at something, over and over again, eventually you’ll get better, and then finally you’ll be able to master whatever it is you’ve spent so much time practicing. At least, I hope I’m a big believer, because I keep telling that to myself as I sit here at my computer every day and write out blog posts and short stories. Don’t worry, I think in my head, so what if everything you’re writing out is garbage? You’ll get better eventually. And yeah, it keeps me going for a while, the idea that someday I’ll look back at everything I’m doing today, I’ll barely recognize my work in these crude, early stages of my writing career.

But whereas I don’t think that anything can happen without practice, I also kind of believe that there’s got to be something else, a natural talent within. You look at certain sports or professions, even at the professional level, there are always a few examples of an even higher level of ability. I’m talking about LeBron James and Wayne Gretzky, William Shakespeare and Mozart, whoever is truly great at curling and whoever else is similarly amazing at luge or skeleton.

You look at examples of a prodigy, someone who, at their peak, is just in total command of their chosen activity. Surely they wouldn’t have gotten to where they were without a lifetime of practice and dedication. But there’s something else, a natural predisposition to excel. And you think about it, it’s total luck.

Think about Wayne Gretzky, look at hockey. How crazy is it that somewhere along humanity’s history, a bunch of people started strapping metal blades to their feet in order to push a hard rubber disk on ice with long sticks? OK, that blows my mind that hockey, or golf, or any of these complex sports developed the way they did into international pastimes.

Right, and then you have Wayne Gretzky, he’s arguably the best player in the history of the sport, he happens not only to have this natural ability to thrive when given the opportunity to practice and play, but he’s also bestowed the good fortune of growing up around hockey, having parents that were able to make sure he had hockey equipment, access to coaching and ice facilities.

Wayne Gretzky could have been born in Africa or somewhere else where hockey isn’t played and he would never been exposed to the one thing that has made his life so remarkable. What if everybody has a similar natural talent? It’s not inconceivable. In some alternate timeline, there might be a sport where humans attach wheels to their heads and roll around upside down while trying to slide giant cubes into various holes in the ground using only their elbows.

That’s obviously a crazy scenario, but in the unlikely event that such a sport were to ever take off, how would I know that that wouldn’t be my unique talent? And that’s just too bad, I’m born in this society where headslide, or whatever you want to call it doesn’t exist, and so unable to find an outlet to use my insane headsliding talents, I kind of drift aimlessly through life, waiting tables at night, hoping that if I sit here every day and type words out on my computer, I might someday have a career as a professional writer.

I’m kind of thinking myself in circles here, the ideas that I’m trying to express are getting tangled up into fantasies of being a professional athlete, of being a professional anything, really. It’s important to stay grounded in the present. I’ve already spent a pretty good chunk of time committed to writing every day, really hoping that I’ll get good at what I’m doing, that my skills might lead me somewhere where this will have all been worth it. But it’s hard not to put aside those lingering questions. Is this really what I should be doing? Is there some other path or activity that, if I set myself out to master, might I not have a better shot at being the best?

Maybe bowling. I’ve never really given myself a fair shot at becoming a professional bowler. Or hang-gliding. I could be the best potential hang-glider in all of history. Or bull-running. Or mountain climbing. There’s no way I’ll ever figure it all out.

Come on, Bill, give me a call, for real

Dear Bill Simmons:

I’m not going to lie, I thought I would’ve had a full-time job at Grantland by now. Which is … well, whatever, you’ve probably got hundreds of would-be employees dedicating full columns on their blogs every week begging you to give them a shot as staff writers on one of the greatest sports and pop culture web sites of all time. I guess I’m just going to have to wait here patiently until you realize I’m exactly the writer you guys need to elevate Grantland to the next level.


No, even higher up, at least three levels higher than where you guys are currently at. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a great site. I’m not trying to say that it’s necessarily lacking in anything, you know, besides me as a staff writer. Bill, I’m like Butch Goring on the 1980 New York Islanders. Would they have gone on to win four Stanley Cups in a row without Butch? I mean, they still would have been a championship caliber team, so maybe. But then again, maybe not.

That’s me Bill, I’m the missing piece of the puzzle at Grantland. I get along great with everybody. Just think, you could’ve sent me to Sochi and I could’ve gained inside access to behind-the-scenes operations and special guests interviews. Like who? Like, I don’t know, maybe President Putin? Why not? I could have done it. Sure, I don’t speak any Russian, but I speak a better language: the all-encompassing dialogue of friendship.

And English. Seriously, everybody speaks English. I would’ve just kept walking in his direction pretending that I’m a lost American tourist, and then when I got close enough, I would’ve whipped out a microphone and my Grantland press pass and I would have been like, “How do you justify the use of authoritarian tactics on your own people? Why didn’t that fifth Olympic ring open up like it was supposed to? Where’s the rest of that meteor that fell out of the sky last year?”

His guards would immediately spring to action, holding up walkie-talkies, trying to restrain me and drag me out of the building. But Vladimir would stop, because despite whatever the international community says about him, he’s a man that respects power. He’d look me in the eye and he’d say something in Russian, at which all of the guards would release me. Some other Russian guy would come up to me and say something like, “President Putin admires your courage. You will be granted exclusive interview. Where are you from, the Times? New Yorker?”

And I’d just say, “Grantland.” Of course I’d call you up immediately and give you the exclusive. Just think about how much worldwide coverage you’d get, Bill Simmons, one-on-one with Vladamir Putin. And that’s just the start. If you go back to my 1980s New York Islanders analogy, I’ll keep getting better and better, our working relationship, hopefully I’ll grow to earn your respect just like I would have the Russian President.

I’m getting carried away. Who knows if you’ve even read any of these letters yet? My big worry is that I’m going to be doing it for years, letter after letter, and then one week I’m going to go on vacation or something. I’ll say, eh, I guess I could just skip one week. I mean, what are the chances that Bill Simmons is going to discover my blog on the one day that I decided not to post him an open letter? And then that would be exactly the day that you’d find your way here.

And seeing nothing of immediate interest, you’d scan my pages of text before writing me off as just another amateur Internet guy. After maybe ten or fifteen seconds, you’d click x on the web browser before you even got a chance to see all of these letters, to you Bill. Obviously I’d have no way of ever knowing if that were to be the case, but I have a pretty vivid imagination, and just the possibility of that happening is enough to keep me writing every week, regardless of if I’m on vacation or not. And that’s what I’ll bring to Grantland. I’ll work around the clock, never taking a break, barely sleeping, I’ll throw all other relationships and activities to the curb and make being one of your staff writers my only priority.

Let’s do it Bill. Call me up. Maybe you can get me to Sochi before the gold medal hockey game.


Rob G.

Watching the Sochi Olympics makes me wish that I got to grow up during the Cold War

I feel like I’ve been cheated out of the Cold War. With the Sochi Olympics dominating the news and the Internet, pictures of athletes kicking their way through broken bathroom doors, stubborn Olympic rings that refuse to function properly during the opening ceremony, and of course that spirited performance of “Get Lucky” by the Russian men’s police choir, I’ve realized that this is the closest that I’ll get to experiencing a taste of what it must have been like twenty or thirty years ago, when the US and Russia had a real thing going.


Now it’s just a big joke. It’s like I’m really bored on a Friday night, so I grab a bunch of snacks, turn on the TV, and lay down on the couch. Everything is nice for the first couple of hours or so, but as the late night lineup starts, I can’t find the remote, I’m stuck watching a channel that’s no longer playing any programming that I’m even remotely interested in. But I’ve already eaten too many snacks, and I haven’t moved in quite a while, so getting up is out of the question. I’m left watching a reunion show for a sitcom that went off the air way before I was watching sitcoms on TV, like Murphy Brown or Cheers, and I’m seeing best-of clips, all out of context, everything’s dated and none of the references make any sense.

But whatever, everybody says “Norm!” when that fat guy walks in, so I can’t help but laugh. And that’s kind of what watching the Sochi Olympics is like, from a Cold War perspective. Like the men’s police choir, all of those guys are dressed up in these olive green military uniforms, the kinds of costumes I’d expect an army of villains to be wearing in a James Bond movie from the 1990s. But instead of making sinister threats or trying to steal a bunch of nuclear launch codes, they’re all dancing around and singing an operatic Daft Punk cover.


And I don’t know, maybe everything just seems cooler in retrospect, maybe living through the ever-present threat of a nuclear standoff with a foreign superpower wasn’t the action/adventure movie I’m picturing in my mind, but the news that we are getting right now from Russia makes me jealous that I didn’t get to experience that national mindset, a whole era where Americans defined themselves not just by their Americanness, but also by their non-Russianness.

The games are barely underway, and most of the headlines coming out of Sochi have thus far been centered around how silly everything is. Look at the Russians as they scramble to install shower curtain rods and cable boxes at the hastily constructed hotels. Did anybody hear about the snow leopard cub that attacked the reporters after having finished a snuggle session with President Putin?

And what about that malfunctioning Olympic ring during the opening ceremony? That was almost too easy, like I kind of felt bad as everybody pointed and laughed at such an easy symbol of technical incompetence. It’s like watching a little kid score on his own net at a Sunday morning soccer game. Yeah, everybody laughs, and then everybody feels guilty about laughing, and then when you think about it later, it wasn’t really that big of a deal anyway, just poor timing, an unfortunate mistake.

But then I started reading all of these headlines on my Facebook feed, stuff like, “Man in charge of Olympic ring malfunction is found dead; Russian police rule out foul play.” And who knows if this is even true? None of the major newspapers are reporting it. So far it just seems like another crazy Internet rumor.

But it’s this type of news that makes me jealous that I missed out on the Cold War. Some guy messes up a robotic ring so the state orchestrates his murder. Wow, that’s cold. Good thing we live in America. If you mess up here, at least you get a participation trophy. It must have been awesome growing up back then, regardless of how poorly life is going, at least you could imagine how much worse things could be, if only you had been born on the other side of the iron curtain.

America won the Cold War. We stand unrivaled in our supremacy. If we had the Olympics in the USA, not only would that fifth ring have operated like it was supposed to, but I guarantee you there would have been extra rings also, six, seven, eight Olympic circles, all of them red white and blue. But without a rival superpower to rub in their face how awesome we are, what does it mean? It’s all kind of empty.

If things aren’t going great now, we can’t point to Russia anymore and make ourselves feel better. I mean, we can, right now, because it’s the Olympics, but the Olympics are going to be over soon and then we’ll forget about Russia and, who knows when it’s going to enter the national consciousness again? If I have a bad day at work tonight, I can laugh it off when I come home, at least the cops aren’t planning to cover up my murder. But three weeks from now I won’t have that luxury. It’s no solace imagining bread lines or gulags in 1980s red Russia. Whenever I complain, it’s just like, hey asshole, get back to work, what the hell are you whining about? Your parents’ generation won the Cold War and all you do is sit around and bellyache.

I’m just saying, I wish I had my own Cold War to help keep things in perspective.

I’m worried

I’m worried that I’ve run out of ideas. I’m worried that I wrote everything that I have to write about. Like when I started writing, I thought to myself, just keep writing, just keep doing it everyday and you’ll get better. But I’m worried that the opposite has happened, like maybe I only had a very finite quantity of interesting things to say, and now that I’ve written all of them, I’m condemned to, if I want to keep this up, just writing a bunch of nonsense over and over again, until the nonsense becomes so repetitive that every single thing that I write looks identical to every single thing that I wrote the day before. And it’ll get so bad that they won’t just feel or look identical, but they will be identical, like I’ll have written this same piece two or three or four days in a row. And then it’ll get to the point where it’s even worse, where not only is every page the same, but every paragraph is the same. And then the sentences, and finally, it’ll get so bad that I’m only writing one word, on repeat, not even one word, just one letter, just typing out the same letter over and over again. I’ll be like, all right, time to get to work. And I’ll sit down and just start writing, “SSSSSSSSSSSS” and I’ll really want to think of a different letter to type, or even just maybe to make it lowercase, but I’ll be so bankrupt for ideas, I just won’t be able to get past it.

I’m worried that the yogurt I ate of the fridge might not have been as fresh as I thought it was. It said that the expiration date was two days ago, but I don’t buy that, for several reasons. First of all, the whole container is sealed, and the actual expiration date isn’t for a month from now. But then on the side of the packaging it tells me to consume the whole thing within three days as soon as I break the seal. And that’s what I’m talking about when I say that it was expired. Like it wasn’t actually expired. The date hadn’t passed. But I opened it up a week ago. Maybe ten days. But I really wanted a snack, and so I cracked open the container and, yeah, it had definitely been a while because all of this liquid had accumulated at the top. So what do I do, do I drain the liquid or do I mix it back in the yogurt? Part of me thinks that, well, the liquid was there a week ago, but it was still part of the yogurt. So if I drain it and then eat the yogurt, it will be missing something, that liquid. But then another part of me thinks that, isn’t yogurt alive? Like aren’t there active cultures (whatever that means) floating around in it? What if this liquid is just a natural byproduct of a container of living yogurt living in the fridge for ten days, two weeks, tops? Isn’t that gross then? Is that like yogurt pee? I’m worried that it might be yogurt pee. But that’s crazy, because yogurt doesn’t really pee, and it’s gross to keep mentioning it. Finally, I gave it a whiff. Did it smell OK? I’m worried that it smelled fine. And what I mean by this is, even if it’s a fresh yogurt, won’t it always smell a little off? If someone told you that you smell like yogurt, even fresh yogurt, wouldn’t you be a little insulted, feel like you might need to take a shower? So I ate it. But I’m worried that it wasn’t fresh. And not for any of the above mentioned reasons. I’m just feeling really sick now. And now everything smells like yogurt, and it’s just making this whole feeling that much worse.

I’m worried that I might not ever make it to the Olympics. Obviously my chance to compete at a physical level is lost. I’m not an idiot. And I’m not saying that I’m old. I’m just too old to be an Olympic basketball player, or an Olympic swimmer. But what about an Olympic gun shooter? You don’t have to be young or in shape to shoot a gun, right? That’s what I always thought would wind up happening. Well, not always. I always thought I would get there as a real athlete, like a long jumper or a boxer, but that was when I was in grammar school, high school. As I started getting older and realizing that I wasn’t really advancing in any of these areas of athletics, I just changed my goals a little bit, shifted to the shooting. But now the same doubts are coming back, and I’m getting worried again, not just about the shooting, but about making it to the Olympics in general because, and like I said, I’ve already put all of my eggs in the shooting basket. Like I’ve said to myself, I’ll still get there, but I haven’t even started training with guns. I’ve never even shot a gun before. I’m worried that everyday that goes by where I’m not target practicing, the odds of me representing the USA on a shooting team are growing more and more unlikely. I mean, maybe, maybe there’s a really small chance that I could be a gun shooting prodigy, like that could be my hidden talent, like theoretically I could be the Mozart or Einstein or Lebron of shooting, and so then I wouldn’t have to train at all, it would just be a matter of finding a gun and getting in touch with whoever’s coaching the shooting team. But let’s be honest, I’m a realistic guy, that’s probably not the case at all. It could be, sure anything’s possible, but I mean really, now that I’m thinking about it, I was never really good at Duck Hunt, and you’d think if I had some inherent targeting skills locked away inside, they’d at least show up with a shooting video game. Yeah, one time I played Big Buck Hunter at a bar and I was terrible.

I’m worried that my only chance at Olympic gold is to get rich enough to buy an Olympic horse. But still, I’d get so jealous of that horse out there on the field, competing at an Olympic level, and I’d just be sitting on the sidelines, and I might get crazy for a second, and in an impulse I might gallop onto the field myself, screw them, I’ll think to myself, I can beat any one of these horses. But everyone knows how easily horses get spooked, right? I’ll get kicked so hard. And they’ll keep kicking me, over and over again. Maybe right in the jaw. Maybe my jaw will get kicked clean off. What’s my life going to be like then? I’m worried I’ll get depressed, despondent, suicidal. But wait a second. If I’m that rich, rich enough to buy a whole Olympic horse team, won’t I have the money for a new jaw? A better jaw? I’ll have the best prosthetic jaw available, even better than a real jaw. It’ll be able to chomp through boulders. It’ll be able to unhinge, like a snake’s. A six million dollar jaw, but even more expensive, like a twelve million dollar jaw. With gold teeth. I mean diamond teeth.

I’m worried that I’ve wasted everyone’s time here. I’m worried that whoever reads to the end of this blog piece is thinking to themselves, “That’s it. That’s the last time I read this crap. From now on, I’m only reading serious stuff. Rob’s ruined all non-serious reading for me, for life, forever.” And that’ll be a shame, because there’s a lot of non-serious writing that’s out there that’s totally worth reading, and I don’t want to have ruined that for anybody.