... And now a word from the Ordinarians

The Baltimore Sun

The Beijing Olympics makes for riveting TV. But some moments might be better left imagined.

I'm talking about the post-win interviews. Breathless athletes try to compose themselves to answer typical questions about how they feel, whether this particular win was expected or a surprise, and how they plan to deal with future pressure or rivals.

I prefer to look at their expressions as they squint at the clock from the pool and pump their arms in the air, or dismount the bars after an uneven routine, burying their disappointment in the comforting embrace of their teammates. I'm fond of the coach hug and the watery eyes during the national anthem. In such moments, I think I can imagine how they feel. And these exultant or devastating moments seem to be wordless ones at best.

The interviews are invariably disappointing. These athletes have just pushed themselves to the physical and mental limit, and now they're supposed to be paradigms of poise. I don't like seeing them reduced to icons of inarticulate.

If only we could take a moment to appreciate how disconcerting it would be to have to make a coherent statement every time we experienced even a minor achievement.

That's why the Janet's World column takes a camera crew this week into the world of Marylanders who are accomplishing, well, regular stuff - things we do every day but with a heroic twist. We're not talking about a synchronized double twist off the high platform. Because these folks are not Olympians. They are Ordinarians, toiling daily to raise the bar on mundane tasks.

Voice Over: Hello everybody, and welcome to what is widely recognized in Maryland as your basic, treeless parking lot at a strip mall. And here's a woman who is struggling to tote more than seven grocery bags to her parked car at the very end of the row. One of the bags appears to hold a carton of eggs. And another has a full gallon of milk! Look at the time she has saved, now that she doesn't have to return the cart to the front of the store. But it's not been without a price - see her forearms, striped with marks from the stretched-out plastic bag handles. Those marks are going to last at least four, five minutes. And they're probably going to be itchy! Now she's opened her vehicle's lift gate and is loading the groceries. Let's go live to Janet, who's standing by with the grocery-toter.

Janet: Ma'am, I'm from Janet's World, interviewing regular Marylanders doing stuff in exceptional ways. That was a lot of bags, there!

Woman: Humph.

Janet: How much do you think they weighed?

Woman: I dunno.

Janet: What about the eggs? Did they make it?

Woman: Watch your head, I'm gonna shut this.

Janet: Thank you!

It's easy to recognize the absurdity in this scenario, but it escapes us in the Olympic setting because we expect extraordinary athletes to be extraordinary speakers. And yet, it is their very humanness that is the essence of their glory.

Perhaps the interviewers should take the basic course offered by the Janet's World School of Humor Journalism. This fantastically unsubstantial program is available online at $49.95 for four sessions you can take or not take - we don't really care.

But the point is, if you're going to bombard a stupendous athlete with questions after an event, here are some stupendous questions we'd really like answered:

Did you ever eat just the marshmallows out of a box of Lucky Charms when you were a kid?

Just how long does it take to feel comfortable walking around in front of a camera in one of those full-body Speedo LZR Racer swimsuits?

And honestly, how does the food compare with your favorite Chinese carryout place?

To contact Janet or hear podcasts, visit http://www.janet gilbert.net.

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