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?