When I accepted the offer to travel to Peru and cover the Pan American Games Lima 2019 for the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, my focus was set on the biggest name sports that were being played. I dreamed of covering softball one day, basketball the next. Maybe I’d throw in some table tennis just for kicks.
The disparity between my own expectations and reality became apparent during my first day in Peru. The editorial team for the USOPC forwarded me a schedule of our coverage plan for the first week.
“What is equestrian dressage?” I thought. “How am I even going to write about this?”
My first coverage opportunity was gymnastics. I felt comfortable, though it was something I had never written about. I knew the United States was successful in the sport and I’d get to write about podium-worthy performances.
The first unfamiliar sport I covered was weightlifting. I wasn’t sure how to feel entering the day. Because it was something that wasn’t on ESPN and I never read articles about, I couldn’t fathom a way to write about weightlifting in an exciting way that makes readers want to finish the story.
What I witnessed that day set the precedent for how I should approach all sports that are new to me. The level of strategy involved in competitive weightlifting shocked me. The athletes have the choice to bump up the weight they will attempt to lift. This forces the opponent to go first. The trick is to force your opponent into a rushed or uncomfortable lift without increasing the weight beyond your limits, which could prevent you from completing the lift and having a shot at a medal. This delicate balance and constant back-and-forth made for an engaging, entertaining day.
Things didn’t really click, however, until I interviewed 19-year-old Harrison Maurus, the United States’ 81 kg. gold medalist. He was so humble and appreciative of the opportunity to represent his country. He spoke with a high level of respect for his competitors and thanked his coaches. He loved what he did, and he had family and friends that supported him.
This opened my mind to something I hadn’t thought about. Regardless of the sport, these athletes deserve coverage just as much as a big-name athlete. A weightlifter feels the same passion as a basketball player.
My sense of discovery and excitement carried over into my next coverage: equestrian dressage. This sport is essentially horseback gymnastics, as the rider must perform a freestyle dance routine with their horse. I entered the day with optimism, eager for new knowledge. I wasn’t disappointed.
The riders put on a beautiful display of teamwork. Rider and horse seemed to move as one with eloquence and grace. I was amazed at how these horses stepped in beat to the music playing in the background, almost like they had a sense of rhythm. I wrote with the riders and their families in mind. I wanted to portray the emotions they made me feel.
Every sport at the Pan American Games is a unique opportunity. When will I get the chance to cover such a wide variety of sports again? How foolish would it be for me to stay in my comfort zone when new, exciting sports and athletes are all around me, waiting to have their stories told?
Regardless of my assignment, I need to appreciate what each one adds – not just to my resume but my overall knowledge of sport. My experience at the Pan American Games has been eye opening. I’m excited to discover more, about sports and about myself.
By Ryan Gregory | @Ryan_Gregory_