Yes, I know the Olympics ended last week, and that blogs are supposed to be updated as soon as things happen (how else are we going to take down the MSM?) Maybe I can spin this my way and say I'm a "post-blogging" blogger.
My favorite name for an Olympic athlete belongs to Norwegian ski jumper Roar Ljoekelsoey
Is Apolo Anton Ohno
just your quintessential Olympian, or what? I'd seen him win medals before, and he always seemed really happy about it. Then he appears in interviews and seems genuinely gracious, happy merely to have skated his best, supportive of his teammates, and unwilling to trash-talk his opponents even though he's apparently earned the wrath of the entire country of South Korea. Then, he won gold outright in the 500m race, and I don't think I'd seen anyone happier to win. Pure infectious joy, the kind of thing they made the Olympics for. Now if only he'd lose the soul patch.
Through some cosmic sense of balance, snowboard-cross is as fun to watch as parallel giant slalom snowboarding is boring.
I love the Winter Olympics. Snow is just so damn pretty, and there's few enough events that one can do a pretty good job of following close to the whole thing. Most sports columnists in this country, though, treat covering the Winter Games like an audit from the IRS. Most criticism falls into at least one of several camps:
- "Winter Olympic sports are just so alien to Americans." OK, so we're not Norway, but we aren't exactly Brazil, either. Plenty of Americans ski. There are ice rinks all over the country. Most people do these things for recreation, not at a competition level, but most people don't swim, run, or life weights at an Olympic level, either. What do these people want, bobsled runs at every neighborhood park?
- "The Americans are doing lousy at these games." There have been well-publicized flops like Bode Miller, but we finished ahead of everybody except Germany. Our 25-medal haul was our second-best in history, and only one fewer gold than in Salt Lake City on our home turf. It's almost twice our previous record (13) for a Winter Games outside of the U.S. As recently as 1988 in nearby Calgary, we only won a total of six medals. Even accounting for the increased number of events, we did great.
- "The TV coverage is lousy." Actually, I congratulate NBC for covering things like hockey, biathlon, curling, and cross-country skiing live. But how many people besides me watched the 3 AM biathlon coverage (I had it recorded on my DVR)? NBC's not stupid. The marquee events happened while most of the U.S. was asleep or at work. Americans care most about the events where Americans are most competitive, and they want to see the Americans compete. So what options do they have besides a nightly 3-hour compilation program? Do these cranks who complain about the lack of live coverage really think all that many people would tune in during prime time to watch every last run by every competitor in real time down a slalom course or a skeleton run? I even thought NBC was pretty judicious with their use of the human interest cut-aways, using them just enough so that we'd get to know the competitors.
- "Anything with a judge isn't a real sport---except boxing." This argument is idiotic. Athleticism and competition make an activity a sport. But not everything is easily judged by a stopwatch or just seeing if a ball goes through a net. But how on earth does that make it "not a sport?" Criticisms like this say more about the writer than they do about sports. Why is it that vast swaths of the American public can appreciate figure skating or snowboard half-pipe but professional sportswriters are so closed-minded that they can't appreciate the athleticism of anything that isn't a marquee sport in the U.S.A?
Finally, a lot of people have commented that the Winter Games are dominated by only a handful of countries, mostly full of white people. Well, that's the nature of weather and economics. It's still a fantastic competition and a great way to bring people of the world together. But especially when the World Baseball Classic is starting, it points out what a lie it is to say that baseball is not a game with international appeal. Baseball is played all across the Western Hemisphere, is very popular in the Far East, and has even made inroads in Europe and Australia. It's as international as the entire Winter Olympics.
And yet the IOC has declared that 2008 will be the last year baseball and softball are played at the Olympics. The argument about it not being international just doesn't hold water. So what else do they claim? That the best players --- the major leaguers --- don't play in the Olympics. Whatever happened to the idea that the Olympics were for amateur competition? Was there an official announcement that this part of the "Olympic ideal" now only holds in boxing, or has it just been chipped away slowly over the past 20 years? Remember when they stripped away Jim Thorpe's medals because he had played one semipro baseball game? The plain truth is that the IOC wanted to ditch baseball because they wanted to screw the United States, pure and simple.
Personally I think the Olympics ought to be a showcase of the best talent in the world, or if that is not possible, then we should see true amateurs. The point of this, though, is that the IOC is so inflexible with the enforcement of their rules and holds them up to be on a par with the Ten Commandments, when in reality these rules are changed with each Olympiad. You can see this in their anti-doping rules, where skeleton competitor Zach Lund was suspended
for testing positive for anti-baldness medication Propecia, a drug which he had freely declared that he had taken for the past six years but which only became listed on the banned substances list a year ago. So Propecia went from being A-OK to making you into a cheat. Taking a pseudoephedrine for a stuffy nose can strip you of your medals. And training at a high altitude is hunky-dory, but artificially depressurizing your sleeping quarters (almost literally levelling the playing field) is banned. Of course they need to prevent people from cheating, but the pompous moral authority they attach to their rules makes me sick.