The Olympics are here! Well, they’re not here – they’re in Sochi, Russia – but they’re here in a temporal sense. It’s February, 2014, and the Olympics have come around again. And still, I am not an Olympic athlete. I have thus far in my life been unsuccessful in my goal to make the U.S. Olympic Team, and, as I’m now 51 (and closing in on 52) years old, the probability that I will make the team seems to be asymptotically approaching zero. Nevertheless, I have not abandoned all hope. There have been equestrian athletes in their 60s, and if I should suddenly be the beneficiary of small fortune windfall, I could go and get myself a nice hanoverian or trakhener and work on making the U.S. Equestrian Team for dressage. The dream is still alive. Only just.
I do very much love the modern Olympic pentathlon, but truth be told, I’m a very slow runner, I still don’t have a horse, and if today’s laser tag event is anything to go by, my shooting is, well…if I tell you I’ve got your back, it would be mainly as a shield. I’m not too shabby a fencer, though. Even though 20-year-old kicked my butt last time we fenced. I’ve been out of it for a while. But this isn’t entirely what I wanted to go on about.
There’s a lot I could go on about. The Olympic city gets chosen well in advance of the games. After all, countries have to do a lot of building and planning. And the IOC is essentially a good-old-boy’s network. So the geopolitical climate often changes in between when the city is chosen and the Olympics are held. And although I could, I don’t really want to blog today about what Vladimir Putin is doing to homosexuals in Russia and how there are certain elements that smack of the 1938 Berlin Olympics in these games. But I will say that I LOVE LOVE LOVE that Chevrolet has chosen to sponsor the games with a commercial that includes a gay couple getting married. GO CHEVY!
I could talk about how, over the course of my lifetime, so many of the Olympic broadcasts have been exercises in jingoism. But I don’t really want to do that, either. I’ll just say that, once again, here is an opportunity for NBC to show that the Olympics aren’t all about the USA and the medal count, so please, please, please, show all the flags, and interview athletes from other countries, too.
What I really want to talk about is my experience watching the Olympics over the course of my life, and watching them now, and what it has and hasn’t meant for me. So…I will.
I first became aware of the Olympics in 1968. The first Olympics in my lifetime were in 1964, but at two I wasn’t paying attention. In 1968 I wasn’t paying a lot of attention, either. I do remember watching Peggy Fleming skate (vaguely), and I remember watching the closing ceremonies in Mexico City. By 1972 I was completely engrossed. The 1972 summer games were the games of Olga Korbut.
In 1976 it was all about Dorothy Hamill in the winter – and then about 70% of the girls and women I knew got the Dorothy Hamill haircut. OK, maybe just 60%. Still. It was a lot. In the summer, the owner of my summer camp put a t.v. in the gym (locked in a special case) so that we could watch the games when we wanted. The only other time he’d brought a t.v. into camp when I was there was in August 1974 so that we could all watch President Nixon resign. So that was what I learned at camp – this is what’s important – the President resigning, and The Olympics. That’s probably a good set of priorities.
I’ve always loved watching the procession at the opening ceremonies. I don’t care about all the performances so much. OK – the whole James Bond thing in London was cool. But usually I don’t care about that. I like watching the teams come in together as teams. They come in as a cohesive group, and they’ve voted on a flag-bearer. The flag-bearer isn’t necessarily the most popular athlete among the people at home – but the person the athletes believe is most worthy. In the closing ceremonies, the athletes mix themselves all up – and I love that, too.
I love that there are moments of great sportsmanship. Often. Sometimes there are moments of heartbreak, and cheating, and scandal. It’s a microcosm of humanity, after all. But one of my favorite moments was several years ago, when the Kenyan cross-country skier was having difficulty in the race. He was determined and he stuck it out, and when he finally finished, the winner was there waiting for him. Because….sportsmanship.
I love that children watch the games and see sports they’d never seen or heard of before and get inspired and try things out, and sometimes do remarkable things.
I love Cool Runnings. I love the Jamaican bobsled team. I love that they became seriously competitive over the years.
I love that this year – THIS year, there is women’s ski jumping. I have wanted to try that for SO long. I think I probably won’t make the team at this point. But still. How COOL is that? When I first started watching the Olympics, there were no women hockey players, no women marathoners (not at the Olympics), no women ski jumpers.
I’m not big on sports that involve costumes, make-up, and sequins. it’s not my thing. But that IS the thing about the Olympics. Curling not your thing? That’s fine. You can watch speed skating – short or long track. Don’t like nordic skiing? Well, there’s alpine. Or snowboarding.
I have to say, I’m just a tad disappointed to discover that team figure skating doesn’t actually involve the whole team skating together. I was envisioning something more akin to drill team on ice. But as I’ve said, there are other sports. That’s why there’s hockey. Although since the Olympic committee has decided to go with NHL players, I prefer the women’s hockey.
I remember watching the miracle on ice. We haven’t matched that with NHL all-stars, and I don’t think we will. But they haven’t asked me.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what I think of Vlad Putin. It’s not about him. I hope the athletes, coaches, and everyone else in Sochi remain safe and healthy. I hope children are watching and getting inspired. I hope to see some good hockey games. I hope the games continue, that more countries are able to field teams, and that the games continue to play some part in helping us all understand a little bit more about who we all are and how we all fit together in this world community.
That’s it. That’s my mite.