Monday, February 22, 2010

Why Does Anyone Need to Be Luging?

The Olympics – who needs them?

As pro-Chicago as I am, I didn’t lose any sleep when it recently lost its Olympic bid – I want that circus as far away from me as possible. After the Rio games, I nominate Neptune or Pluto for the next locale.

I adore organized sports and healthy competition. But how much more coverage and glorification does the sports world need? And how healthy is the current state of Olympic competition? Nations shouldn’t be further baited into battling each other, even under the pretext of it being all in good fun, and even if it’s only a few times a decade. Gratuitous global one-upmanship puts a damper on global healing and these Games are breeding grounds for petty nationalistic mentalities (even if many of the participating athletes themselves don’t necessarily hold these mindsets). Before these 2010 Games even officially kicked off, notoriously mild-mannered Canada had already been called out for crooked conduct designed to give its people a competitive edge. Who knows what other dirty deals (and much worse than this low-grade unsportsmanlike conduct) are going down well behind the scenes, from Canada or anyplace else?

Of course the U.S. and a few other well-heeled (almost always Western) countries are going to have the highest medal counts - their histories and demographic profiles give them a leg up. So why rub it in to the less-privileged countries (which make up most of the world) that the U.S. and these countries are boss? The developing world and other smaller countries already deal with this song and dance in their daily, non-Olympic lives.

I feel the same way about World Cups or World Championships, but those events don’t have nearly the reach and PR machines (at least not within the U.S.) as the Olympics. World Cups/Championships aren’t thrown in my face the way the Olympics are, so I tend to leave them alone.

What’s wrong with keeping traditional athletic competitions at the intra-national level? Yes, then there’d be petty regional resentments. But we already have that with our domestic sports – so why not let it stay there instead of exporting it to the international arena? New Orleans vs. Indianapolis or Nova Scotia vs. Ontario is less potentially inflammatory than the U.S. vs. China or Russia vs. Germany.

In their public statements, those people who run the show try to spin the tenor of these Games and this tradition as something all-innocuous – this competition is a hearty, good-natured celebration of the world’s most talented athletes. This is a very simplistic and academic rendering, and I can’t be the only one out there who’s not buying it.

It’s always uplifting to see the smiling faces of the athletes when they take the medals podium, knowing that all of their hard work and honed talent has finally paid off; or to pick up on the pride and excitement of those who don’t make it to the podium, but who have made it to this level of competition. But if this is really just about global unity and a celebration of the world’s most talented athletes of the day, why can’t these athletes strenuously compete in their home countries and then have some kind of “We Are the World”-minded extravaganza for a couple of weeks? Every 2 years, they could get together the way they do now, but without the scoring and all of the well-publicized tallies of who’s kicking whose ass.

If all this weren’t enough, then there are those quasi-sports that these Games validate. If I’m going to be subjected to the deification of international athletic showdowns, at least give me something interesting. Hula-hooping, running in place, “Mother May I?” - anything but grown men on sleds. I can’t handle it, and don’t feel as though I should be expected to. What’s most troubling is that these sledders are making significantly more money than I am – for a sport in which they’re lying down. The figure skating isn’t so bad – at least there’s music. Although I’ve never completely figured out pairs skating – who was it that originally came up with the idea for a man to throw a woman into the air across a sheet of ice like that? Off the ice, are most of these pairs dating? Seems as though they should be. And then some of those skiing events are totally sketch – it’s like watching well-narrated home videos of a group of reckless white frat boys’ most recent trip to Boulder.

No way can I end this tirade without taking a shot at the commentators. Every now and then, one of them will say something that could almost matter. But, so much more often, it’s a torrential downpour of idle noise. A camera will zoom in on the sweaty, dejected-looking face of an aging figure skater who’s waiting for her scores, after having tragically fallen twice during her short program – and then you’ll hear a Voice from Hell saying something like “boy, would you just look at that disappointment?” Next comes a close-up shot of the skater’s visibly pissed-off coach since late childhood, sitting by her side. And there goes Commentator: “Her coach doesn’t look too happy either.” The other night, I had speed-skating on in the background. There was a black person in contention for the gold and I couldn’t turn my back on him – not when the lion’s share of Winter Games participants are as white as the snow and ice they glide around on. Quietly rooting for him, for a few moments, I forgot all about my anti-Olympic agenda and began to understand why so many people really get into this shit. And then the commentators just killed it for me. Are they getting paid by the word? There were no unexpressed thoughts. They were choppin’ it up about skater-boy’s current apartment situation and his single-mother-led upbringing on the South Side of Chicago. Then it was: “he keeps a journal and he writes in the journal.” These people need editors – bad. They’re not cut out for improv, live broadcasting, or censor-free living. I didn’t know where I had left my remote (and was too paralyzed with aggravation to think to jump up and lower the volume on the TV itself), so I wasn’t able to mute it all out in time. I manually covered my ears and watched my Brother take care of business.

Only about a week more of this to go. For now. Because the Olympics are like the really bad or embarrassing things you’ve said or done in your past. Just when you start to forget about them, they always have a way of coming back.

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