I tried to act all cool. I tried to think I was way too cultured and hip and that I had far far better and important things to do with my time. I even tried to avoid it (not that hard when you don't have television). But I have to admit it... I really like the Winter Olympics.
Let me get the most important factor out of the way first. Olympic Hockey. It doesn't get much better than this. It's so good, I can't even mind the delay in the NHL regular season (unless any Rangers get injured in the process, of course). The ice is more open, the skating is fast (and dare I say furious) and pure skill and hard work trumps all. The teams we're used to are shaken up into several different units of All-Star level players. Even the US, which doesn't have a great team, still has some really interesting players. You get to see players shine in scenarios you might not get to in the NHL. It almost makes me wish the NHL would adopt international rules. Almost.
Then there's the biathalon. I might be biased as this was my favorite event to play in the Super Nintendo Lillehammer Winter Olympics videogame, but I don't understand why more people aren't into this. It's a race. It's a war of endurance. It's much like many of the races and relays you might find in the Summer games that get a lot of attention. But with guns
. Just this morning I watched an exciting finish in the "pursuit" biathalon where the French competitor just edged out the reigning Norwegian champ for the Gold in the final homestretch. It's an amazing feat of stamina, skill and control at its highest caliber (terrible pun unfortunately intended).
And that's what you get to see in any Olympics, really... Amazing feats. I just feel like it's amplified in the Winter Olympics. The competitors use tools (the bobsled, luge, skis, skates, etc) to accomplish things that are far beyond human. Flying high through the air, hurtling at insane speeds, showing off pinpoint skill (those biathalon targets are a the size of a silver dollar and 50-yards away!). Plus they pull all this off wearing flamboyant, colorful, skin-tight outfits. Let's face it, it's the closest I'm going to get to seeing comic book-esque actions until we perfect cyborgs and genetic modifications.
Now, a plug for just about anything would be lacking without addressing some of the more high profile haters. The first argument is made by The Sportsguy. He can't stand the Olympics because of the time delay and that, in this day and age, you know the outcome before you get a chance to watch it. I can see where he's coming from, but c'mon. Is anyone really THAT connected? I could understand this argument in the case of most major American sports where if you miss the game it's near impossible to avoid hearing the outcome since (especially in the case of a major game) it will be in the paper, on the radio, and/or on the television (and of course online). But the Olympics don't get that sort of coverage, especially in events where an American is not finishing with a medal. Unless you're insanely connected all the time (particularly to the world of sports), I really don't see this as a relevant setback.
The second argument is from Bryant Gumbel. I think there are few people out there with their head on straight that wouldn't agree that Bryant Gumbel is one hell of a self-righteous and annoying prick. He pretty much cemented that view in my eyes with this quote regarding the Winter Olympics:
Count me among those who don't care about them and won't watch them. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention
Wow. I don't think he thought that one through. By this reasoning, should white people be completely uninterested in and scoff at basketball as it has a "paucity" of whites that make an NBA game look like a Harlem block party? Soccer aficionados better stay away from the Copa America if they're not Hispanic?
The Olympics are about presenting the cream of the crop in specific Winter and Summer events that have been developed over the years. It's ridiculous to think that the IOC would allow in or any nation would offer anything less than the best, regardless of race. It just so happens that there are a helluva lot more white people in Scandanavia, Eastern Europe, and other regions that these sports are popular in. Furthermore, there's just less interest amongst most black people for a lot of these sports. It's cultural and demographic and all that isn't necessarily
a bad thing. And there is of course the possibility that it is at least partly (dare i say it?) genetic. Perhaps being a white American there's no reason to be interested in long distance running that those darned black Kenyans always dominate (that's right, eat my snark, Gumbel). Meanwhile, Gumbel completely ignores some of the Asian athletes not only participating, but expected to take home highest honors. For example, Korean short track speed skaters are some of the best out there and their rivalry with America's Apollo Ohno is one of the more compelling storylines in this year's games. Speaking of Korea, how about both North and South Korea competing under the same flag? At the risk of sounding corny, the Olympics actually do seem to bring people together... whereas Gumbel's attempt at enlightenment is only mean and divisive.
Of course, watching NBC's coverage of Torino, I realize there are some things even I could do without. Seeinng the beautiful shots of Torino is great. Having the "Sponsered by ExxonMobil" sign come up stamped across these shots unavoidably gets an irony inspired chortle out of me... or sometimes a depressed sigh.
Also, NBC's coverage is, unavoidably, modern media and thus desperate for any story they can get their hands on (or manufacture) even if that means beating a virtual non-story to death. (snowboarder). I got so sick of Bob Costas rehashing the Lindsay Jacobellis incident
. The Bush Administration deserves the type of pointed cross-examination that Costas gave her in the studio.
In the end, though, it's hard NOT to get pulled in once you start watching. These athletes are on a level of talent that is inspiring and most of them are absolutely euphoric about their opportunity to be there. Every moment means soemthing to them there and yet every moment is too important to not be taken in fully and happily. Despite the steely resolve and determination in times of competion, there's a levity, excitement, and happiness about the Olympics that is sorely and sadly lacking from the world and our general dialogue. So take in an event or two. Just try it. Unless you're just too cool for that sort of thing, I guess.