Watching the Olympics: Pro athletes, they’re just like us!

August 3, 2012

If you are watching the Olympics you have plenty of company, including pro-athletes. Some like viewing new sports, some are watching people they know, some have interest for their kids and others are just sports junkies.

Even with all the trade talk in baseball this week there were some televisions carrying live Olympic coverage. Cubs pitcher James Russell was excited to talk about how cool field hockey was — it was his first experience watching the sport. Meanwhile teammate Tony Campana keeps his eyes glued to the gymnastics—his mom trains gymnasts.

Down in Bourbonnais at Chicago Bears training camp, players are trying to keep an eye on the Summer Games between practices and meetings. Several don’t have televisions and are using their iPads or checking Twitter. There are players gathering with their teammates to catch the events at night.

Bears tight end Matt Spaeth has a personal interest in the games since he knows some participants. “A kid I went to high school with is an Olympic wrestler,” he said. “I know a woman’s volleyball player and a woman’s basketball player.” Unfortunately he keeps spoiling his own Olympic viewing by learning the results, since he can’t stop checking the outcomes. Bears safety Chris Conte has plenty of friends from his college, University of California, that are competing, especially the beach volleyball players and swimmers.

Another Bear, Nick Roach, takes pride in one of his fellow college alums — Matt Grevers, the gold medal winner in the 100 meter backstroke. “We knew each other in school,” Roach said. “Matt was great when we were at Northwestern. It’s cool to see him do well at the highest level.”  Roach doesn’t have a TV in his room and catches the Olympics during lunch. He enjoyed white water rafting but doesn’t necessarily want to try it. He would love to go see the Olympics in person someday (but he’s a little busy right now).

Jason Campbell, in his first Bears camp learning his role as back-up quarterback, is an avid Olympic viewer. Campbell loves the speed of swimming and track and said he is excited to see the U.S. men’s 4x100 meter sprint team and world recorder holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica compete. Campbell has a lot of respect for these Olympic athletes, especially that one American swimmer. “Michael Phelps breaking the record in our lifetime in my age group is something special,” he said.

Campbell shares his admiration for track and the “Fab Five” gold medal-winning women’s gymnastics team with teammate Charles Tillman. The Bears All Pro cornerback now has a keen interest in gymnastics, a sport in which his older daughter and son now participate. He enjoyed watching it with his six-year-old little girl. “It’s cool to see some of the stuff she will be able to do the next couple of years — the tumbling, balance beam and the uneven bars,” said Tillman. He also enjoyed watching the parents’ reactions during the Olympic competition, which is something he relates to now. “It’s a cool feeling as a dad to see your kids compete,” he said. “Now I know how my Dad felt watching me play.”

Unfortunately, when Tillman joined some teammates to watch the taped gymnastics team final he blurted out that the U.S. ladies had already won — much to the dismay of the players that didn’t already know. He apologized and slipped back into his own room.

Tillman listed several sports he would love to compete in if he could: skeet shooting, rowing, martial arts, basketball and soccer. He was enthralled by ping pong and handball and didn’t realize those were Olympic events.

It’s always interesting hearing athletes impressed by the prowess of other athletes and Jason Campbell summed it up quite well: “I have so much respect because [the Olympians] are the elite of the elite.”