Raven Saunders and Why the Olympics Matter 

Gold standard

click to enlarge Maracanã Stadium

Flickr user lucianosilva

Maracanã Stadium

Like all proud Americans, we here at the City Paper offices are flush with Olympic fever. From the scrunch-faced rage of a seething Michael Phelps to the unabashed joy we feel when U.S. swimmer and resident doping sheriff Lilly King calls out a competitor and backs it up by bringing home the gold, we are loving every minute of the Summer Games in Rio. Except the dressage. The dressage was merely tolerated.

Anyway, Charleston native and Burke grad Raven Saunders will face off against the rest of the world’s greatest shot-putters on Friday, with women’s qualifying rounds beginning around 9 a.m. and the final winners being crowned later that evening. In honor of their alum, Burke’s Athletic Department and the Charleston Parks and Rec Department will host a viewing party on Friday morning to cheer on the local Olympian. Doors at the Burke High School auditorium open at 8:30 a.m. on Friday for all those hoping to gather for the qualifying rounds.

Claiming multiple titles during her time at Ole Miss and Southern Illinois, the 20-year-old Saunders broke an NCAA record this past June with a throw of 63 feet, 5 inches — for everywhere else in the world, that’s 19.33 meters.

Now, I am in no way a sports enthusiast. Like some sort of nationalistic corpse flower, my interest in athletics only emerges every four years, but when it does so, it is with a pungent vengeance. To tell you the truth, I have never really considered the sport of shot put before now, and I’d imagine that is the cause for many people. So leading up to Saunders’ chance at the gold on Friday, I decided to take a look at just how far she shot that put — or put that shot — and describe it in terms that all Charlestonians can understand.

As you may have noticed with the Olympics, the difference between gold and silver is usually a matter of centimeters and fractions of a second. For the sake of this article, we’ll be looking at the general distance that Saunders and her competitors can throw. Saunders’ hurl of 63 feet, 5 inches, is about 3 feet farther than the distance from the pitcher’s mound to home plate at The Joe. And instead of a baseball, she’s throwing an 8.8-pound metal sphere. So what are other ways we can measure this distance? I’m glad you asked.

The throw that qualified Saunders for the Olympics is roughly equivalent to:

— More than six Coburg Cows lined up nose to tail.

— Just farther than 11 Joseph P. Rileys or — going by Charleston’s new standard unit of measurement — over 10 Tecklenburgs, which is commonly referred to as a DecaBurg.

— In other words, if you knocked the Sgt. Jasper building over like Wayside School, Saunders could easily shatter a fifth-floor window. I mention this statistic because if the Sgt. Jasper becomes sentient and tries to take over the city, we will most likely call on Saunders to kill it using those leftover cannonballs lying around Battery Park.

A lot of solid research went into this article - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • A lot of solid research went into this article

All kidding aside, I know this article has veered into the absurd, but what else are you going to do when you talk about the Olympics? There’s just something about it that doesn’t seem to mesh with the concept of real life that I feel most of us possess.

There’s a necessary cynicism that we’ve developed because after all the movies and TV shows and motivational posters telling us we can be the best, the reality is that’s just not true in the way we want it to be. So we start to think that promise we heard of so much when we were younger has been dispelled. It’s around this time that the voices of a few opportunists begin to rise up.

“Hey, America used to be great,” they say, “but all those times are gone and I’m the only one who can make it right again.”

We look left and we look right and we try to figure out who left us dry-mouthed standing at the well. We forget how far some of us walked to get a drink. We just stand thirsty with a bitter taste in our mouths. Then someone like Raven Saunders comes along. She — and all the other local athletes at the Olympics — remind us that those farfetched aspirations may be possible, but no one person is going to deliver them at your doorstep. Yes, this is a little annoying because it doesn’t afford me the excuse to fill all my free time with watching professional wrestling videos on YouTube. It also doesn’t excuse everything that’s wrong with the country, nor should it distract from it.

I’m sure many people watching the Olympics wish they could long-jump their way out of student debt. But what this all should do is serve as a reminder that everyone deserves to be treated as if they can go on to represent us on the world stage. So whether you’re measuring your success in inches, meters, or former mayors, you can still make a difference. Yes, the system is rigged. There are dopers in the pool and poison in the water. People in power let that happen. But once every four years, you can do something that affects the world. Just be sure you stick the landing.


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