Unless you have been lost at sea or tunneling underground with a teaspoon to India, you know that the Winter Olympic Games are taking place in Vancouver B.C.—a hop, skip and day’s drive away from my hometown. (The ‘other’ Vancouver.) I must admit that I do not like the Olympics. I believe them to be over-hyped and over-exaggerated, complete with inane announcers and not-so-subtle marketing ploys for NBC.
Despite this, I have been tuning in every so often for the pure sake of the sports. It was the snowboard cross that captured my attention. I mean, did you catch that madness? Or the half-pipe? Forget curling and ice dancing, I want to know when the next X Games take place. Yesterday I watched an hour of women’s aerials. These athletes skied up a sloped tower of ice that launched them into the air—four stories high—where they proceed to spin, twist, and flip in the 3.5 seconds before landing on the snowy hill below. Insane. I have to admire those athletes. They possess sheer skill that I cannot begin to imagine, not to mention the fervid dedication and discipline they need to reach that level of skill.
So in the spirit of the Olympic season, I have compiled an entirely unscientific list of my likes, dislikes, and ruminations.
1. My favorite sports to watch: snowboarding, hockey, aerials, ski cross, and anything else that sends your adrenaline rushing. I could never bring myself to strap on a snowboard and fly down a curvy, mountain track with jumps. At the risk of sounding like a fourteen-year old, it is just so cool.
2. As I watched the gold-medal performance of Evan Lysacek online, I realized something: figure skating is rather asinine. To me. In my opinion. I know there are folks out there who defend and love figure skating with a passion worthy of Braveheart. You know what? Good for you. Continue on with your ice skating love. I cannot watch it anymore, which is saying something. I used to be obsessed. (Seriously, I happen to own a Campbell’s “Souper Stars on Ice” bowl from 1998 with the autographs of that year’s U.S. Olympic women skaters: Nicole Bobek, Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski. Remember them?) And when I say obsessed, I mean that I watched every figure skating competition or special that occurred on television. I knew all the top names and the scoring system. I wanted to be Yuko Sato’s best friend.
But now I watch the event with impatience and bemusement. First of all, I do not understand the new scoring system. From what I have read, it seems that the skaters earn points by successfully completing a list of elements. To my untrained eye, this causes nearly all the routines to look the same. The costumes are either grossly ostentatious or so standard I find myself wishing that someone would skate onto the ice wearing a skin-tight lizard sheath. Something weird. Something to rock the boat. The same goes for the music. I can only listen to so many violin-heavy classical pieces before I start feeling drowsy. I was excited to see one of the male skaters wearing a black t-shirt, embellished with colored jewels in the shape of an electric guitar. Rock on. Too bad he fell at the beginning of his routine.
And lastly, while I do admire the balance, strength and grace needed to skate and jump across the ice, I find it boring. I remember skating when each performance told a story. Now I watch the skaters contort their faces into overly exaggerated, emotional expressions and wave their arms in the same fashion as the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. Fans can keep their ice version of dance. I’ll take my tickets to the ballet.
3. Jacket envy—I’m harboring a severe bout of envy for those navy-blue, puffy snow jackets that the NBC announcers wear. I am perpetually cold, and I have a feeling that jacket would solve all my cold weather woes. And they are super cute. Chic color, snazzy Vancouver 2010 patch. *Sigh*
4. I am not, however, jealous of the U.S. line of athletic apparel. Some—like the alpine skiers—are okay. But I cringed when I saw the snow pants and jacket for aerials. The jacket and pants match so it looks like a snowsuit onesie. The suit is dark blue with light blue stars scattered all over the fabric. It looks like Betty Ross threw up and forgot the red and white stripes.
5. Stephen Colbert needs to grace the Olympics with his presence more. He brings a much-needed sense of humor to the games. If you have not seen the interview with Bob Costas yet, check it out: http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/assetid=9d9ff0ef-ee6e-47f4-a6a8-0ce20fb539cb.html#stephen+colbert+with+bob+costas.
6. Hail to the Nordics. You do not see the utter predominance of orange from the Netherlands during the Summer Olympics. And neon tangerine at that. Makes sense since the Nordic-trifecta (Sweden, Norway and Finland) can experience snow-covered ground for six months out of the year.
7. How does the Olympic theme music still cause my heart to swell and make me feel like I can accomplish anything? I gave up sports back in high school but, damn, that anthem makes me want to pull out my soccer cleats and join the local women’s team.
8. I love love love the dude who starts all the speed skating events. You never see him; you only hear his voice: “Rhea-dee.” (As in, “Ready.”) He sounds so disinterested with the entire affair. And his accent is a delightful mix of French and Canadian. French-Canadian, perhaps? Whatever his nationality, he feels me with glee.
9. I am always amused at the fierce attempts by NBC to create “Olympic stories” in between the actual events. You cannot just introduce Bode Miller. No, no. You play a specially-created, four-minute video set to inspirational music that paints a portrait of a true Olympian. A fighter. A man who has experienced setbacks and now returned to achieve his goal of GOLD. NBC should partner with Hallmark—they would make amazing movies. Like a sports version of the Lifetime Movie Network.
10. For a global event that is supposed to “bring the world together,” I have been increasingly annoyed with NBC’s coverage. They focus overwhelmingly on the American athletes. I can understand that American viewers want to see American athletes. But this is such an opportunity to showcase the world. In a time torn by conflict, war, and suspicion, it would be nice to hear of the stories from Armenia or Uzbekistan. Did you know that Pakistan is participating in these Olympics? So are Colombia, Ghana and Montenegro. Does the American majority even know where Montenegro is? The Olympics could provide an incredible education in geography and world culture. But it is the Americans in the coverage spotlight, even when other nations place higher in the qualification rounds and event rankings. (Unless, of course, it is the finals round. Those athletes will be covered, as will the stray American trailing behind in 19th place.)
11. While I am criticizing NBC, allow me one more frustration. The Games are covered in such a way that places tremendous pressure on the athletes. The word “redemption” is used to an absurd extreme. If an athlete wiped out four years ago, they have their chance at redemption in Vancouver. And if that athlete happens to wipe out this time around, they have LOST IT ALL. Maybe they are not destined for Olympic Gold. Really? These athletes train every day for years, but I would think that the athletes would say it is for the sake of their sport. And their love of that sport. As Aussie Torah Bright (half-pipe gold medalist) said, performing well is about bettering the sport. The Olympic podium is a goal, amongst many. So stop elevating the Olympic Games to the most important event in which these athletes will ever compete.
12. Does Bob Costas do anything apart from serving as the NBC frontman of the Olympic Games? He has been the main sportscaster for the Olympics since 1992 in Barcelona. That’s eighteen years. No wonder that cup of cocoa in the manufactured, fireside-studio lodge goes untouched. (The answer, if you were wondering, is yes. You can find Costas on the MLB network. Baby-faced Costas and baseball, the all-American pastime? Yeah, I can see that.)
My twelve-cents on the Olympics, for what it’s worth.
p.s. okay, I will not skewer NBC with more criticism on their pitiful coverage here. That would require an analytic essay on media, marketing, and the responsibilities of any network when given the monopoly on an event such as the Olympics. I might write such an essay at a future time. For now, here is an article on the vicious backlash from the network’s decision to cover ice dancing over the U.S.—Canada hockey game on Sunday: http://www.thewrap.com/ind-column/usa-hockey-beats-canada-nbc-takes-bigger-hit-14466. The “border war” was discussed during the evening news, but not shown…Brilliant move, NBC.)