It began to change for me as he started to lose and look panicked. It's not fun for me to watch someone come apart at the seams, and while Michael Phelps looked human, tired, in defeat, Ryan looked lost. You can tell that he was so convinced that he would win every race--he'd visualized it, he'd killed himself for it, he'd been surrounded by sycophants dependent on his doing it, he'd surely had more tee-shirts made up to commemorate it in advance--that it was almost like he couldn't quite believe the losses were real.
Of course it's quite nice that in the Olympics you still get medals if you come in second or third, and you are supposed to act happy about it, and Ryan did this for his sponsors if not from his heart, but watching his father become enraged from the stands as Ryan finished third in the 200 backstroke (a lovely win by Tyler Clary) and second in the 200 IM (to Michael Phelps in their last head-to-head competition) did something to me. I know NBC was aware of the psychological windows they were opening up to Ryan and Michael's real lives when they cut between Ryan's red-faced, screaming, disgusted father and Michael's nerve-wracked but cheerleading, Chico-wearing mother and sisters. How could you not wonder--where are Ryan's brothers and sisters? Where is his mother? Where is the love? Where are the smiles? Are they really only there when he wins? When in the press conference he spoke vaguely about moving on with his life, trying to convincingly say he was moving away from his family in Florida to Los Angeles to train because of the weather being better, I could almost understand it.
The next day we heard from his mother, in an interview with US Weekly. We already knew from Ryan, in hundreds of ways big and small, that he considers himself a stud. He talks about sex in the Olympic Village as the sweet compensation for a hard day's work. That his having a girlfriend in Beijing really cramped his hook-up style but he's free this time around so he's good to go. All bad enough. But to hear from his mother in a magazine interview that Ryan is too busy to maintain any relationships so he's forced to have only one-night stands because anything else would be so unfair to the girls (this makes it easier on them, she supposed, because they know not to expect a call the next day) I felt really terrible for him. If he gets his values from his parents he's bound to be in rough shape.
All kids are self-centered (except maybe the five year old who gave up his birthday presents this week to buy school supplies for poorer kids), and all try out big egos at one point or another. My own son Ryan says he's too busy to iron his work shirts; it's my job as his mother to remind him that this is true of only the President, if then. So he pays my daughter Sheyanne a dollar a shirt to do it for him but only if he acknowledges that he's simply too lazy to do it, or that he hates to iron, or that he sucks at it, rather than that this is beneath him. Everyone needs these reality checks to stay mentally healthy and socially tolerable. Otherwise...
|Phelps with his mother and sisters in Beijing|
|Dara Torres was the last swimmer to leave the |
pool after the 50-meter freestyle final. (AP Photo)
I hope Ryan was paying attention, and I hope for his sake he learned the right lesson from her--someday this will all be over, sooner than you'd like, and then what will you have left? If you sacrifice too much, if you sacrifice people, it won't be enough.