We’re nearing the end of the term here at the Bing Overseas Oxford study abroad program, and I’d been feeling let down after the pitiful showing by Britain during the Winter Olympic Games. They finished the ceremonies in PyeongChang with only five medals to their name, a sad showing when compared to the prowess displayed by the United States and their 23 medals. I’ve been in England for seven weeks, I need to be nationalistic about something to truly feel a part of the culture here, and what better way to display country pride than in sports! Then I wandered into a pub this past weekend and saw my new fellow countrymen cheering on an English rugby team.
I’m gonna be straight with you guys, until very recently, I legitimately did not believe that polo was a real sport. I had only ever seen it in movies and TV shows, and always thought to myself, “there’s no way that this is an actual competition.” I mean, obviously people ride horses, but hitting a tiny ball with a preposterously long mallet just seems fundamentally implausible. Obviously it’s way more likely for the entire sport to be a conspiracy propagated by British elites to reinforce their posh lifestyles in popular culture. Yet last Saturday I found myself in the British countryside about 20 miles outside of Oxford watching students on horseback do the impossible: actually play polo.
Three days ago someone told me that the Olympics had started. “What?” I replied, incredulous. If the Olympics had truly started, I would’ve definitely heard about it. I associate the Olympics with fanfare, prestige, celebration, appearances on mainstream media and newspaper covers. How could they have just begun without telling me first? Was it even 2018? Two whole years since the last one? That’s far too soon. Shouldn’t I care more about this global event?
When February dawns and the Super Bowl makes its return to end the NFL season, there always seems to be a number of new football fans that come out of the woodwork and clamor to organize parties to watch the big game. People you would never in a million years expect to care about the Patriots or the Eagles suddenly are posting selfies with Tom Brady and Carson Wentz jerseys on.
The Oxford Blues women’s cricket team meets in a small gym with green rubber floors, not much larger than a basketball court. The coach is speaking to the team, running through some throwing drills, and two hard, leather bound cricket balls are flying haphazardly around the room as the team warms up. Suddenly cricket bats and tennis balls are broken out and small groups of hitting drills commence, projectiles now soaring through the air in every direction; the sharp cracks of the bat piercing the light conversation taking place amongst team members. The head coach catches sight of me sitting idly on the sidelines, drafting this column, and with two emphatic gestures (one at me, one at the tennis balls laying in the corner), I’m now involved in this practice somehow, ducking and dodging as I pick up balls for the team and try to avoid being hit. How on earth did this happen?
My first exposure to rowing (or what they refer to in America as “crew”) came in 2010, when i saw David Fincher’s movie The Social Network. Besides being completely blown away at the fact that Armie Hammer was playing two people on screen at the same time, I was additionally shocked that competitive kayaking was a real sport, one that posh British people in the movies seemed to take exceptionally seriously. My next encounter with rowing, in high school, reminded me that the founding of Facebook wasn’t the only thing exaggerated in that movie, and helped me better comprehend this aquatic mystery of a competition.
Remember that incredible national championship game last Monday? The game where Georgia dominated its storied, historically successful SEC rival for one half of football before a backup, left-handed, Hawaiian quarterback came in for his first game and led Alabama to what should have been a regulation victory were it not for a missed field goal, only to then lead them to an overtime win with an incredible walk-off touchdown? Remember that? Yeah, I totally missed all of that, because the game started at 1 a.m.
There was a warm welcome in Maples Pavilion for No. 2 ranked Stanford women’s volleyball (17-2, 8-0 Pac-12) as they beat No. 14 ranked Washington (15-5, 5-4 Pac-12) on Thursday before taking down Washington State (13-9, 2-8 Pac-12) on Saturday. The Cardinal returned home after a four game road trip to extend their winning streak to 12 straight.