Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Ho-Hum Olympics

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?  If a Winter Olympics takes place in a backward country’s warmest spot, with little introductory hype, does it make a noise?  The first question has confounded philosophers.  The second one must be equally confounding to advertisers, athletes, and even sports fanatics like me, who are stunned that an Olympic Games is going on and we couldn’t care less.

Oh believe me, there are plenty of explanations.   Here are just a few:  (1) During the months leading up to these Olympics, we heard nothing but criticisms of the venue.  The host city has the same climate as the Southern Oregon coast.  Its infrastructure is woefully inadequate for such a grand event.  And it resides inside a country that is unabashedly homophobic at a time when the “civilized world” is finally waking up to the fact that homosexuality is not a sin.  (2) During the weeks leading up to these Olympics, the hype machine simply wasn’t working, at least not in America.  The only Winter Olympian who had been in the news during recent years was Tiger Woods’ girlfriend Lindsay Vonn, and she announced some time ago that she wouldn’t compete because of injury.  (3)  Once the Olympics began and we were reminded that there were a few titans competing after all, we’ve seen those titans go down one at a time.   Sean White, the flamboyant redheaded American?  He took a seat on the snow.  Evgeni Plushenko, the legendary Russian skater?   He took a seat on the ice.  In fact, Plushenko’s fall, which took place in a practice round, was so devastating that he quit the competition for medical reasons.   Then, what started out as a sad story became a maddening one, as the media reported that Russians are now criticizing the skater for not manning up and fighting through the pain.  Talk about folks who are neither empathic nor rational! (4) At least here in America, the outcomes of the events are widely reported long before they are aired on TV.   I don’t know about you, but once I know who won a sporting event, I have virtually no interest in watching it.   

There you have four good reasons why I have been more looking forward to the second season of “House of Cards” than anything taking place this fortnight at Sochi.  Truly, I want to support these world class athletes who have been training for years just for their big moment, but something seems off kilter this year.  Where are the larger than life characters?   Where is the celebration of a city and a nation that has given its all to celebrate humanity in its universality?  And where is the sense of anticipation about an epic showdown between two can’t-lose athletes?   

We have none of that in these games.  And I guess, with respect to the last of those issues, it’s just as well.  Imagine such an Ali-Frazier, Borg-McEnroe kind of matchup in Sochi – the competitors would probably collide with each other approaching the end of the course, leaving the gold medal in the hand of some unknown competitor from Norway.  But that wouldn’t be so bad.   For I have to say, the one thing I have learned from these Olympics is that more people live in Maryland than in Norway.  Amazing, right?  What’s also amazing is that by the end of these Olympics, practically all of Norway’s young adults will have won a medal.

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