Putting the “Win” in Winter
Well. The 2014 Olympic Winter Games have come to a close. As much as I appreciate the renewed freedom I have in the evening (I watched as many of the events as I could), I will miss the special interest stories, the tense “will s/he pull it off?” moments, the weird paradox of the same event being won and lost in the same fraction of a fraction of a second, or two-tenths of a point in deductions. I watched more of the Olympics this year than I have in a long time (probably because I recently got a TV antenna and therefore reception–thanks Mom and Dad!), and I found myself getting more emotional than I have in the past. Maybe it’s age (I turned 32 on Tuesday) or maybe it’s the realization that this Olympics would have been the last one that I would have possibly been “young” enough to compete in (aside from curling, and not factoring in the fact that I’ve never been an Olympic-level athlete, nor am I remotely* in shape), but I found myself tearing up a lot. When people won. When people fell. When people finished well, raised their fists in the air, hugged their teammate(s), and collapsed to their knees in gratitude.
Here are some thoughts I have after watching this year’s competition:
The announcers were as much a part of the story for me this year as anything else. It wasn’t just Bob Costas’s progression from pink eye to double pink eye back to (I hope) in the pink. It was the enthusiasm of the biathlon announcer that convinced me to keep watching Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who surpassed Bjørn Daehlie as the most decorated Winter Olympian in history (so far, at least) with 13 to Daehlie’s 12.** The announcer for biathlon, Chad Salmela, made me believe that it was the greatest sport ever. At least, for the time I was watching it. I also loved the curling announcer (clearly Canadian, eh?) and the announcer who had a British (New Zealand? Australian?) accent. I don’t usually think of those countries for the Winter Olympics–isn’t England fairly flat?–but I appreciated the different voices from the standard Americans.
I didn’t love all the announcers, though. Half the time, I watched events on mute because their comments were both inane and annoying.*** The post-event check-ins have always been a bit dumb, but this year was especially bad. I don’t have the animosity toward Christin Cooper that the Internet seems to (although I can’t say I like the way she spells her name, but that’s her parents’ fault). She asked the questions any announcer would have, but that does bring to light the issues with American media in relation to the Olympics. I know that there are only so many questions you can ask an athlete after an event like that, and all of them seem inadequate to get at what we really want to know: “What does it feel like to participate in the Olympics? To train for years (or a lifetime) for something that is over in seconds? What do you do when what you hoped would happen does? When what you feared might happen does? Where do you go from here?”
Along with that, I wish we didn’t put so much emphasis on winning, especially since the focus becomes gold-only. If you don’t win gold, you didn’t win. I mean, it’s not enough that you are one of the top athletes in the WORLD in your sport and only lost by a small margin, but that margin becomes everything. Research has shown that silver medalists are less happy than bronze medalists, because they “lost gold” whereas bronze medalists almost didn’t make the podium. “There are only 7 people in the WORLD faster than you are,” sounds a lot better than you got eighth place, but that’s because we think in terms of first only. Not personal bests. Not “It’s amazing that you are here, and no matter what, you are doing something that a very small fraction of the people on Earth can do.” More commentators could focus on that and we could reduce the number of “medal checks” in my opinion, and we might have a happier Olympics. And more athletes, especially those who win silver, could take a page from Noelle Pikus-Pace, who had perhaps the most enthusiastic response ever after an event. I can’t say for certain she would have reacted the same way if she had placed, say, tenth, but judging from her positive attitude after a less-than-perfect first day, I’d say she was thrilled to be there no matter what. Which is as it should be.
I didn’t like the P&G commercial “Thank You Mom,” not because I don’t think moms deserve thanks (mine certainly does), but because dads do, too.**** And grandparents. And other parental/guardian figures who help an athlete get to the Olympics, help a person become who they are. At the very least, they could have acknowledged that moms AND dads make sacrifices for their children.
The Jamaican bobsled team is kind of…eh, been there done that? A Jamaican hockey team, now that would be something.
Curling: The Bowling of Winter Olympics
The Winter Olympics could be alternatively called the Whiter Olympics. Or the Wealthy Olympics. They showed how expensive Bode Miller’s gear is, and it was close to $175,000 just for what he wears, let alone what he eats and where he trains. You’d hope he has a season pass…
P&G: Proud Sponsor of Moms. PBR: Proud Sponsor of Dads. PB&J: Proud Sponsor of Curlers.*****
Watching the Olympics several hours after they’ve been completed (versus live) leads to many “spoiler alert” moments. Lesson learned: don’t Google a competitor’s name the same day they compete.
Things I Googled during the Olympics: Do ski gates hurt, Picabo Street children, ski ballet, how did Sochi get the Olympics.
Things that made me feel young during the Olympics: When Bjørndalen (who is 40) won gold. Realizing Tara Lipinsky is my age.
Things that made me feel old during the Olympics: everything. But especially the following: Kerri Strug’s famous landing was 18 years ago. Tara Lipinsky won gold 16 years ago. Kristi Yamaguchi is 42.
Owen Wilson + Jake Busey = Ted Ligety
AND NOW IT’S TIME FOR everyone’s favorite game: Winter Storm OR Winter Olympian?******
The following are names of either Winter Storms (2013-2014) or Winter Olympians (past or present). You pick which are which:
The answers will be in a post in two weeks! If you find yourself missing the Olympics, don’t fret. The Winter Paralympic Games begin March 7. Go USA!
*But in shape enough to handle a remote…ba-dum CHING!
**They both have eight gold and four silver, but Bjørndalen has a bronze as well.
****One of the special interest stories involved US speed skater whose dad traveled over 80 hours just to get to Sochi to watch her compete, and former speed skater Apollo Ohno is estranged from his mom but has a relationship with his dad.
*****Okay, I’ll stop picking on curlers. But go to the Olympic athlete webpage and browse by sport “Curling” and tell me that there isn’t a large number of people who look better suited to do your taxes or play tuba in a marching band than compete in the Olympics.
******I put “OR” but there are at least two that are both.