Last night, I was watching CBC's coverage of Canadian swimmer Brent Hayden's decision to withdraw from the 200-metre freestyle semifinals. Then Ron MacLean mentioned that the final for the men's rowing eights would be broadcast in the middle of the night (3:50 a.m. Atlantic time).
At least that's what I thought he said.
Despite having to work the next morning, I decided to set my alarm clock and get up in the wee hours to watch the Canadian gold medal favourites try to win Canada's first medal of the Beijing Olympics.
3:50 a.m. came, far too quickly, and the TV was clicked on (turned down low, of course). Then, to my complete surprise, it wasn't the men's eights competing. It was the women!
Now, with all due respect to the Canadian women's rowing team, I was not exactly pleased to see this. The men's eights are considered a heavy gold medal favourite. The women's eights, not so much.
Did I mention that it was a preliminary heat and not the final?
Figuring that I was awake anyway, I decided to watch the women's heat. The Canadians finished third out of four boats and must race in the repechage on Wednesday to advance to the semis.
Despite all that, I enjoyed the race. Rowing is one of my favourite Olympic sports, and it was a pleasure to watch the four boats giving it their all, finding the mental strength to push forward (or, in their case, backward) while their bodies screamed for relief.
It's the allure of the Olympics and the thrill of international competition that hooks me every time. I find myself getting up at 7 a.m. to watch a field hockey match between South Korea and New Zealand, or a badminton match featuring a German and a Mexican.
These are sports that I would never watch under normal circumstances, especially if Canada is not involved, but somehow the Olympic banner and the prospect of best-on-best competition reels me in every time.
So, what drives me to get up in the middle of the night to watch a rowing competition? Even a hockey game would be hard-pressed to drag me out of bed at that hour.
It's the excitement of watching athletes, everyday human beings, from all over the world try to better themselves. Their ability captivates our imagination. Their drive and determination reflect what we would like to see in ourselves. And the goal of achievement is something that we can all identify with.