- AP Photo/Matthias Schrade
- Elle Purrier St. Pierre leading Jessica Hull of Australia in a heat of the 1,500-meter race in Tokyo on Monday
Like thousands of Vermonters, I was glued to a screen on Sunday night watching Elle Purrier St. Pierre of Montgomery run for it in Tokyo. The fleet-footed Olympic competitor placed third in a qualifying heat for the "middle-distance" track event: the women's 1,500-meter race. Purrier St. Pierre covered the .93 miles in 4:05.34 — fast enough to participate in the semifinals on Wednesday morning. By the time this newspaper hits the streets, we'll know whether she did well enough to advance to the final race on Friday.
In truth, I'd be watching even if I didn't live in the same state as Purrier St. Pierre. I love the Olympics — from diving to discus, archery to artistic swimming — and would be an enthusiastic spectator for all 16 days if I didn't have a job.
Perhaps because I spent my teenage years trying to become a ballet dancer, I understand the drive and sacrifice required to master a physically demanding discipline. For the young athletes who make it to the Olympic games, the ultimate test of body and spirit, that effort is on full display. Perfection lies within their chalky grasp.
In my view — from the couch — every one of them deserves an audience.
It infuriates me the way U.S. broadcaster NBC skips over lesser-known competitors to focus almost exclusively on Americans. Especially in the swimming and track events, the camera pans over countless chiseled individuals whom the announcers obviously know nothing about. I bet there are some remarkably compelling stories on that refugee team.
Instead, we get cameras trained on the families of every American who might win a medal. If the athletes don't deliver, they disappear, along with their relatives. It's gross.
In search of fair treatment and global justice, I find myself gravitating to the Canadian channel, CBC. The pace is slower. There's not as much jumping from event to event. And the Canadian cameras capture inclusive but unsexy moments, such as the arrival of swimmers, one by one, on the pool deck for an upcoming race.
Every athlete is properly identified, and we learn something about that rare competitor from Tunisia or Brunei. I watched Canada beat the U.S. in a hard-fought beach volleyball match, during which the announcers were full of compliments for both teams.
Even the ads are wholesome. The ones with the motto "Everyone plays for Canada" make me tear up. Or maybe I'm just excited about the U.S.-Canadian border opening to American travelers on Monday, one day after the Olympics end.
- File: Sally Pollak ©️ Seven Days
- Elle Purrier St. Pierre representing Pleasant Valley Farms at a milk giveaway event in St. Albans in May 2020
Lest I sound like a traitor, I felt swells of pride and patriotism when NBC zoomed in on Purrier St. Pierre in the starting blocks on Sunday night. With her blond hair tied back in a ponytail, she smiled. Then: On your marks, get set, bio. While Purrier St. Pierre ran, sinew in sunglasses, the announcers talked about her family's dairy farm and her efforts to help the Vermont Foodbank during the pandemic. They even got the shot of her family and friends watching the race at home in Montgomery.
Whether it ends in the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, Purrier St. Pierre's Olympic story amounts to an amazing experience for a talented and caring athlete. Vermont is lucky to be able to claim her, no matter where she winds up on the leaderboard.