Posted by: Nathan | February 15, 2006

The Olympics Return

It’s Olympic time again, and as I watched the torch-lighting last Friday, I wasn’t sure how I felt. In the past, I’ve derided the games, yet every time NBC busts out that Olympic trumpet theme, I can’t pull my attention away. Considering the negative press and my mixed emotions, it’s time to examine what’s good and bad about the Olympic games. Feel free to add your thoughts.
What’s Good
1. The international-ness of the games: I love it when the Olympics are in foreign countries (though it’s almost impossible to avoid getting results before watching the events on TV) because it causes me to cast my attention to a part of the world that I normally ignore. I get tunnel vision; the Olympics serves as a gentle reminder that there are millions of people who live very different lives than I. I like to hear the athletes’ stories, listen to the announcements in three languages, and see how people from every area of the world react to triumph and failure.
2. The Medals: In just about every sport, getting first place or winning it all is everything (or the only thing as Lombardi famously said). In the Olympics, getting a bronze in a difficult race is a triumph. Pulling out second behind the best in the world in a given event is an honor. Lots of athletes show up just to be there. That they award the top three participants doesn’t subtract from the competition’s excitement. I don’t suggest that other sports adopt this system, but I think finishing second often is not failure but a smaller triumph. It’s a different perspective.
3. The Strange events: What sports does the world care about besides soccer? These sports! Norway doesn’t watch football; it cares about ski jumping. Canadians don’t care too much for college basketball, but curling makes them shout. I like watching odd events because they’re fun and different, but also because these events mean so much to so many other nations. There’s a lot more at stake. Additionally, the athletic ability needed for the luge, figure skating, or half-pipe is tremendous and noteworthy.

What’s Bad
1. Figure skating announcers: Olympic announcers usually range from tolerable to informative, but the abrasive minority overrule the competent majority for me. Figure skating is a big offender. The three announcers this year (two male, one female) are quite bothersome. The male color commentator is old and complains about the current skaters (“nobody knows how to do a proper sit-spin these days”), the woman color commentator is all right most of the time, but she’s very critical when silence would work best; the play-by-play man (if you can call him that) is just dull. They talk during the performance when silence would be more powerful, they criticize frequently, and they just get on your nerves. Other events’ commentators are usually decent (kudos to the half-pipe guys; they’re great).
2. The Fluff: It’s good to get a back-story…sometimes. These ten minute fluff pieces on athletes’ family tragedies and personal triumphs always tug at the heart, but showing too many of them makes them all cliche. Additionally, these emotional montages mean less actual sports coverage, which is what we really should be watching the games for. Less is more here, NBC. Help us out.
3. The “World Peace” appeal: Everyone is always trying to make the Olympics into a lesson for the rest of the world (especially in the Opening Ceremony). Let’s make an obvious observation: playing sports with athletes from other countries is a lot easier than ridding the world of war. Politics are complex; skiing down the same mountain with other fellas/ladies who may or may not disagree with a certain political position isn’t complicated. There is no greater metaphor to be gotten from having a bunch of athletes compete for medals in the same sports. “C’mon people now, smile on your brother. Just like those Olympians.” They’re in it for the glory; politics are almost entirely irrelevant to these games.


  1. The good: Ice dancers falling.
    The great: Ice dancers not speaking to each other before a big dance because they fell last night. GREAT!

  2. I would agree with you about nearly everything that you said. I guess a couple things I would add to that are the new events that really only the US has a chance to win. This year the Snowboard Cross event and in years past the regular snowboarding events. At least right now it is not uncommon to see the US sweeping the event or at least taking 2 out of 3 medals. The second thing that really gets on my nerves is the fact that you cannot go to without finding out what happend in the events that haven’t even been televised yet. I think either the olympics should be televised once live and then repeated in primetime or the news agencies be barred from telling the results until after it has been televised. I guess another way to improve’s system is to have a link to the olympics and nothing else about the olympics on the home page. I have had to avoid for the past week and I have to avoid it for another week. For those big sports fans it is tough to avoid espn for 2 weeks. Anyway, those are my thoughts.

  3. Nate, I completely sympathize with missing and the frustration of trying to avoid finding our results. At least it’s an off season for most sports so there’s not much to read, plus the four-letter network is going downhill I fear.
    I still can’t believe I missed the ice dancing carnage. Dang!
    I also wanted to mention that since the arrival of Scott Hamilton to the figure skating announcers, the broadcasts have been about 100 times better. Hamilton is always fun and encouraging to each skater and is knowledgable to boot. Additionally (and maybe even better), his talking makes the others shut up.

  4. I’m glad you’ve come around, little brother. Your old crusade against the Olympics was just a reaction to how much I loved them!

    I do think you’re mostly right to say that the Olympics don’t have much to do with politics, but it’s still true that getting the whole world to cooperate on anything is pretty impressive.

  5. […] writing this post, I couldn’t help but feel that I had written on this subject before. Yep, I did. But that was over two years ago and it was for the winter games, which I like slightly better. The […]

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