The Real Fireworks

Fourth of July weekend is meant to be spent licking barbecue off your fingertips, lying on the beach lost in a good book or stuffing yourself with homemade goodies until you burst like a Roman candle. But it rained in New York City this weekend. And I didn’t feel like going far from home.

Thank god. Because this was the greatest sports weekend in a very, very, very long time. John McEnroe might argue it was the Best Weekend Ever. (Who do we have to call to get him a guest spot on that VH-1 show?) I knew it was going to be special; but this weekend went beyond special. I felt as if the HDTV gods had scripted three days especially for me.

On Friday night, while our friends were partying and firework-readying, my friend Lee (a former U of Miami swimmer and the most well-informed swimming expert on the planet) and I were sipping Chardonnay and watching Olympic swim trials. (Hey, we’re classy sports fans.) I’m not sure anything Macy’s sent into the clouds could rival the fireworks in Omaha. We watched Phelps and Hoff each win their fifth of five individual events; we watched Piersol reclaim his record in the 200 backstroke and saw Dara Torres—Have you heard? She’s 41! (Umm, pretty sure I’m breaking that news.)—set yet another American record to win the 50 meters (Man, she is buff in HD). Then we went to a friend’s rooftop and watched those other fireworks.

On Saturday, I watched as Gary Hall Jr. walked to the pool wearing his blue superhero cape for what is undoubtedly the last time. He failed to make the team, ending his reign in the 50 meters. (I must admit, I am not entirely sad to see him go. And I can’t wait to see Cullen Jones, who won the 50m, swim in person.) I cringed as Tyson Gay was taken down by a pulled hamstring 20 meters into the 200 meter final, ending his reign in that event, his chance at a repeat gold and his hopes of doubling in the 100 and 200 meters in Beijing. I was disheartened by another poor big-meet performance by 1500-meter favorite Alan Webb, will finished a disappointing fifth and will be staying home this August. Sometimes, Trials are cruel. Unless you’re Allyson Felix, Lolo Jones or Bernard Lagat. Then they’re a reason to celebrate.

But then there was Wimbledon. You didn’t have to be a tennis fan, or even a sports fan, to appreciate the women’s final. Anyone with a sibling can understand the emotion expended on that court. And to anyone who’s ever argued that Venus and Serena pre-script the outcome of their finals matches, or that they don’t care enough about the game: YouTube Saturday’s match. Then replay Serena’s racket-smashing emotional outburst after dropping the first set to her big sis, or Venus’ 129 mph serve—a Wimbledon record—and make that argument again. With a straight face. And no blinking!

But Sunday. Oh, Sunday! My morning workout didn’t get my heart rate as high as watching the third, fourth and fifth sets of the Federer-Nadal final. Federer was out after two. Then he was back! Then down again. Then back! Then a rain delay … Then back! I don’t know that I’ve seen two athletes want something as badly as those men wanted that trophy. The SportsCenter Top 10 could easily have been filled with highlights from that match. Both men made impossible-looking acrobatic shots that I think sometimes even shocked them.

It was exciting. It was emotional. It was exhausting. And that’s just me. I can’t imagine what five hours of playing time (and nearly 12 hours of elapsed time) did to those guys. And their families. I wanted to reach into my TV and hug their moms.

After one very long fifth set, my guy didn’t win. On grass, or any non-clay surface, I’m a Federer fan. On clay, Nadal. (Although he could ratchet up a notch by switching to wedgie-free capris.)

As they walked to center court to receive their trophies, I had tears streaming down my face. I wasn’t sure if it was Nadal’s tears that had moved me to tears, or the fact that he clutched the trophy like a little boy clutching a teddy bear and could barely speak. When he found his voice, he humbly complimented the man he’d just beaten. I thought maybe it had been the look on Federer’s face as he was handed the second-place plate. He held it like someone holding a baby for the first time and then looked at it as if he was wondering what exactly he was supposed to serve on this odd, non-trophy-shaped tray. Turkey, perhaps? Federer doesn’t know Wimbledon without winning. He barely knows tennis without winning. It was painful to watch him not win.

In the end, I think it was all of the above. Supposedly, I was supposed to have cried at the end of Sex and the City: The Movie. Whoever told me that had it all wrong.

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