With the Olympics on television nonstop, even with the hours-long delay that NBC fictionalizes as a "live broadcast," there are a variety of sports to pick and choose from. I watched badminton with complete focus earlier. It never crossed my mind to be otherwise occupied. There was Olympic badminton on my computer live from London, and I wasn't moving from my desk. BADMINTON.
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There's also a host of sports we don't often see covered in the States like water polo. There are plenty of good reasons to follow water polo now if you've seen the lists from Buzzfeed and new tumblrs dedicated to specific aspects of the athletes' images. Seriously, water polo is my new favorite thing.
The Olympics also present footage of individuals in incredible physical condition attempting feats that most of us would never dream of accomplishing. I wonder if gym memberships increase with the Olympics on television, with the hopes that if they could do it, perhaps we could also sport some rocking quadriceps and six-pack abs. Or look that good in a small swimsuit (hello again, water polo).
There are also emotionally powerful and wrenching moments in the Olympic Games that might make us cry in empathy. Seeing someone work so hard and not win is never fun, and I think it's important that we be invited to relate to these incredible human beings every four years, across language and geographic boundaries that otherwise exclude us from one another.
In that way, the Olympics function similarly to romance for me, as each novel presents a similar opportunity: to relate and empathize with people very different from me, and to understand the emotions we all have in common across those differences. Just as romance can make certain experiences the centerpiece and blow them up more-than-life size, so do the Olympics take everyday expectations and nerves and blow them up to internationally broadcast proportions.
When I watch, it's similar to when I read—a great book invites me to root and hope for the best for each character, just as the Olympics encourages me to root for everyone who has worked so hard to achieve not just the potential for a medal but making the Olympics in the first place. Not everyone can know what it's like to be in the Olympics, but most, if not all, of us know what it's like to work hard to achieve something and to be nervous when tested.
Conveniently enough, there are many sports romances in which the characters are athletes, particularly athletes on professional sports teams. Jaci Burton has her Play-by-Play series featuring heroes who are professional hockey, football and baseball players. Deirdre Martin has a series of romances set around the fictitious New York Blades hockey team, including one of my favorites, Power Play (Berkley, 2008). Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Rachel Gibson have also written sports romances series that are much loved by romance fans, as has Erin McCarthy, who created a NASCAR-esque car-racing series beginning with Flat Out Sexy (Berkley, 2010).
But if you're looking for Olympics romances specifically, there are some of those, too. No emotionally intense setting would be ignored by romance, but to my surprise, there aren't terribly many. For example, Elizabeth Lowell's Remember Summer (Avon, 1999) follows an Olympic-hopeful equestrian protected by the hero from possible sniper attacks. Kathleen Gilles Seidel's Summer's End has a heroine who is an Olympic skater. And Cassandra Carr's Collision is about an Olympic medal-winning figure skater as well, this time paired with a rodeo star.
Many thanks to Maili, Katie Dunneback and Cassandra Carr for nudging my memory to build that list—I could remember two books, but I knew there were more. To my surprise, there weren't many in our conversation!
I think we need more romances set against Olympic sports, both the summer and winter games. There's no shortage of emotions, conflict and drama. Might I suggest water polo? Please?
What Olympic and sports romances are among your favorites?
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.