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I’M FEELING OLD AMID THIS YOUTH MOVEMENT

by | Aug 12, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

DAY 5: Kid divers, old folks and nose hair.

BEIJING – Thanks to gymnastics, I am quite used to little girls at the Olympics. Little boys are another matter. So when I heard about a 14-year-old male British diver – the youngest participant in these Games – I had to investigate. After all, the Brits are not your typical cradle-robbing sports machine nation. The Brits like to kick soccer balls, drink and commiserate about losing, usually with more drinking.

So Monday morning I taxied out to the National Aquatics Center – the building that looks like a wave in a box – to check out this kid. On the way over, my driver stopped in traffic, yanked on his emergency brake and, no joke, began to trim his nose hairs with tiny scissors. Really. Once finished, he pulled off the brake and continued on.

I wanted to say something, but I can’t speak a word of Chinese. Besides, what do you say? Hey, you missed one?

Anyhow, to the pool. It was the finals of the synchronized 10-meter platform, meaning two divers go at once, trying to mimic the other’s every move. I looked up. And sure enough, in the third pairing, out came 14-year-old Thomas Daley, with brown bangs, big eyes and a short, lean body, alongside his diving partner, who looked like his dad. And together they did a twisting, flipping thing and hit the water simultaneously.

Young Daley tugged on his suit as he got out of the pool. I expected him to run to the ice cream stand. The long and short of it

I mean, he isn’t just young, he looks young. It’s like watching Harry Potter dive. Apparently, Daley has become all the rage in England, with adoring teen fans who love him and hand-wringing adults who feel he is too young to compete. I don’t blame them. I have that feeling every day in China. This place is so full of young people (nearly half the population is under 30) you constantly feel like you should be using a cane. Every store, every hotel. Even Yuppies look like they’re 12.

Meanwhile, here was Tom Thumb, hitting the water again and again. Six dives. He looked pretty good to me, but the judges thought otherwise, and when the competition ended, he and his partner, 26-year-old Blake Aldridge, had finished eighth out of eight.

I scurried downstairs to talk to this child, and when he came out, I have to say, first of all, it is a pleasure to be able to look down at an athlete for a change (he’s listed at 5-feet-1, 104 pounds). Also, his voice is high enough to sing Frankie Valli songs.

“It was really good fun,” he said. “It just wasn’t our day.”

It was like talking to one of my nephews. I wanted to tell him to get in the car and buckle up. Not a happy partnership

Daley was upbeat and good spirited, but as the media surged and yelled questions, his partner, Aldridge, seemed less than thrilled. Going back and forth between them was like a “Saturday Night Live” routine.

TOM: “I had so much fun.”

BLAKE: “I think he was a bit nervous …”

TOM: “It was very exciting.”

BLAKE: “Obviously, with the media coverage, Tom’s had a lot of pressure on him …”

TOM: “Everyone has been so supportive.”

BLAKE: “This was my best chance …”

TOM: “Now I know what to expect.”

BLAKE:”I probably won’t be back …”

You had to feel for the old guy. Poor Blake may have watched his last medal chance go down the drain with a kid who actually had, I’m not kidding, a SpongeBob SquarePants doll on his backpack, a gift, he said, from a female diver.

SpongeBob?

A day earlier, I had visited Beijing’s famous Temple of Heaven, built in the 1400s during the Ming Dynasty. Along the corridors, in a rainstorm, people gathered and played old Chinese instruments, a flute, a viola, foot percussion. They sang alluring songs about the love of country or the love of their fathers. They were all senior citizens.

So maybe this is where the old people go here, to a temple, in the rain, singing songs. Meanwhile, Harry Potter is diving into swimming pools. China really can make you feel your age, whatever age that may be.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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