For the past few days, I have been full-on exercising. Virtually exercising, of course, in the tradition of 2018 electronic reality, as I watched young people compete in the World Series of exercising, the 2018 Winter Olympics.
I held onto my heart as Shaun White won gold in the half-pipe. He won in 2006 and 2010, crashed his way into a hospital in 2014, and now has won in 2018. I’ll be first to admit, it was a painful experience, watching him hit all those stunts virtually perfectly.
“And that’s enough to guarantee a medal!” the announcer said as I gripped my keyboard in a valiant attempt at outscoring Chloe Kim. Dang, she’s good. But I believe in gender equality. Anything she can do, I can do.
Chloe Kim did not just win the event. She crushed it. After guaranteeing she would have the gold medal hung around her neck, she took a victory lap, and nearly scored a perfect 100 in her final run. How can I compete against that?
Then I donned my cross-country skis, slung my virtual rifle over my shoulders, and sped down the biathlon track. I have no idea who actually won. I was not in the shape I hoped I was, and became one of those lying in the snow beside the track as my fellow competitors swept past.
On the slalom ski trail, I slipped halfway down the crooked line of gates and slid across the finish line.
This virtual Winter Olympics is rough.
I should have expected no less. Just the opening ceremonies were amazing. Forget the computer generated graphics cast on the floor of the arena, or the multitude of drummers banging the skins, or what looked like a five-mile flight of stairs up which two people carried the Olympic torch to light the Olympic caldron.
No, what I would like to know is how anyone was able to convince 1,200 drones to fly in formation so their lights sparkled a snowboarder in the sky, then disassembled the sky-borne image and reorganized it to form the Olympic rings. The last time I saw a similar murmuration was when several hundred starlings swept past Mickey D’s and then flew several curving swirls over the pasture across the road. The birds have been practicing for several thousand years, at least. We humans have known about drones for a few tens of years, at best.
“I worked so hard to get here,” said Kim at the end of her winning run.
She made it look so easy.
“It’s an incredible feeling of accomplishment,” another speaker said after winning gold, but just being on the podium is pretty great when the time between the top five competitors is less than a second.
You practice for years just to get a chance to compete. You watch what you eat, you live without friends, you win competitions and amass the trophies and points that win you a chance. People who believe in you go into debt to put you in place for that shot of a lifetime. One day it happens.
You stand at the starting block, and you are just one of a small group of people who have been as good as you, as fast as you, as accurate as you – and you have to find that little edge that makes you one one-hundredth of a point better than everyone else in that group.
I get plumb tuckered just thinking about it.
But that’s the difference between virtual reality and the real thing, between a mountain in PyeongChang, South Korea and a couch in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.