Olympic Ambivalence


The 2018  Winter Olympics are now officially underway, the opening ceremonies from Pyeongchang, South Korea were visually stunning, the commentary from Mike Tirico and Katie Couric more restrained and intelligent than is sometimes the case at these events. Other than the awkwardness of Vice President Mike Pence refusing to stand for the united Korean team while sitting next to Kim Jong Un’s sister the spirit of international competition and sportsmanship seems off to a good start.

I’ll confess to having a hard time summoning interest, to finding others that seem interested.

I used to be, used to look forward to these games as much as any other sporting event on the calendar.

1984 was the year that I really first started paying attention. The summer games were held in Los Angeles meaning that all the good stuff happened at times where we could watch it live. I was at my grandparent’s house and that was all we watched the entire week. Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses were setting records, Mary Lou Retton became a house hold name long before just about anybody was able to be and Bobby Knight coached some up and coming basketball players  named Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing to a gold medal eight years before the formation of the first Dream Team.

It was the winter games though, held in Sarejevo, where I first realized how important these were to some people. In those days we got a whole week off from school for February vacation and once again I was spending the week with my grandparents, once again we watched from the opening ceremony on. The star power wasn’t the same, Scott Hamilton and Torvill and Dean the only names that I’d recognize now, but what these games had that the summer didn’t was participation by the Soviet Union, a country hated by my Lithuanian grandparents with a vitriol I was too young to fully understand.

What I understood was that they were the bad guys and the United States were the good guys. I kept a small notebook and studiously kept track of the medal counts, updating it with the results from the previous night every morning. It was years later before we found out that the Easts Germans and Soviet athletes were all artificially enhanced but I remember our disappointment at the American poor showing.

I try to get my daughter interested but other than to ask if I can take her ice skating, skiing or bobsledding some time she just wants to know when we are going to put “her shows” back on. After my promises that there wouldn’t be any more football on Sundays I think she feels tricked. She understands team sports, needs to know which color jersey to root for. Friday night was spent learning about other countries and cultures at a Girl Scout event called “World Thinking Day.” It seems off somehow to follow that up with a weekend of hyper-nationalism.

She’s still a few years too young to appreciate the years of hard work and dedication of these athletes, to marvel at what they are accomplishing, but that doesn’t explain my ambivalence.

I’m as patriotic as the next guy. We said the Pledge of Allegiance before her scouting event, stand for the Anthem and have a flag waving in our front yard. Its fun to hate the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers but don’t need an artificial “bad guy” to appreciate sports or feats of athletic excellence.

The truth is that I don’t know, a somewhat anticlimactic end to this post, I know. Maybe it’s the lack of NHL players in the hockey tournament or any other names that I recognize. Maybe the Korean setting reminds me of the jingoism of our leaders and the apocalyptic consequences that could result from too much national pride. Maybe I’m just sick of this damn winter and don’t feel like watching other people have more fun in the snow than I’ve had.

Anybody else feeling this way?



18 thoughts on “Olympic Ambivalence”

  1. I was thinking the same thing myself. Perhaps if some “star” comes out of the pack or there is a controversy or heartwarming show of compassion by an athlete. So far I’m not watching thought. Could it be that the western world is not hyping this years games because of the location?

    1. that could certainly be a part of it, though you’d almost think that they would want us to be more interested and invested in what happens in South Korea. Maybe that would just make too much sense

  2. My interest in the Olympics has cooled over the years, but I did watch some last night and it was exciting to see the young American win the gold in snowboarding event. I am usually quite depressed after football season ends, it is hard for me to get excited about watching any sports. But I do enjoy the skating and alpine skiing. So I’m going to give it a try.

    1. I’ve got basketball on right now. I’ve heard a lot about that snowboarding kid. I should be paying more attention I guess

  3. I used to watch it every time it came on, but I haven’t been interested in years. I didn’t watch the last winter or summer games and I haven’t tuned in to this week. I think it all just became such a political to do that it is less fun to watch and enjoy. Everyone needs to “make a statement” and it’s like tuning in to a news show now. #AnythingGoes

  4. Hubby & I are huge fans and our household is loving watching the Winter Olympics… it’s like an added bonus as the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games are due to start in April. I’m not sure why we love it so much but we are certainly addicted. #AnythingGoes

  5. It’s so political isn’t it? But then it always has been I suppose. K it’s interesting to see the TV coverage is different depending on which country you live in. U.K. tv is obsessed with the skeleton and the snowboarding, possibly because we can actually do those events! I loved watching the Russian figure skater! How amazing was her performance! I have been watching bits of it as I love sport but it looks too cold for me! Bring on the summer games! #anythinggoes

  6. I am a huge fan of the Olympics but to me it is almost like a slick marketing campaign more than anything these days.

    They have added all these X-Games sports to try and draw the younger generation. That has kind of lost me.

    1. From what I’ve seen it seems like they have toned down on trying to manufacture stories and drama but a lot of it still feels very artificial

  7. The only part of the Olympics I’ve ever been interested in was the figure skating. Maybe that’s because when I was a little girl one of the professions I wanted to be in was figure skating. I just fell in love with their grace of movement. I missed this one though and while I’ve heard some good things I definitely feel the same as you. There is no excitement for me anymore. #anythinggoes

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