Torino 2006: does anyone really care?

Mike Thornburn, ArtSci '06
Mike Thornburn, ArtSci '06

I skipped class yesterday just to see Canada dismantle “zee Germans” in ice hockey. Most interesting to me wasn’t anything in the game, but afterwards, when the guys with whom I was watching the game scattered faster than Burgundy’s crew after the dustup with Mantooth in Anchorman. A lot of us watch the winter Olympics, whether to avoid midterms or to see how well Bode Miller can ski with a hangover. But with a few events that are exceptions, is our interest anything more than superficial?

We remember the Rebagliatis, Salés and Pelletiers because of scandal, but no one remembers medalists from 2002, let alone which events they competed in. Our nation comes to a complete stop when Canada plays for the gold medal of hockey, and bursts into the streets with the expected victory. Skier Jennifer Heil wins gold, and women’s moguls suddenly gets Googled to find out what the hell the event actually involves.

The Olympics website reads: “The Games have always brought people together in peace to respect universal moral principles. The upcoming Games will feature athletes from all over the world and help promote the Olympic spirit.” I don’t know what universal moral principles have to do with the luge or curling, but maybe the organizers are missing something when the IOC has nothing but praise for the games and there are almost 11 million more people watching American Idol than the Olympics. Speedskater Jennifer Rodriguez told the Associated Press “it’s very disappointing to walk in and it’s half empty ... I can’t believe this is the Olympics ... the Olympics should be sold out.” Even events that are traditionally the most popular, such as figure skating, have only been filling two-thirds or three-quarters of the 8,260-seat Palavela.

“You don’t feel it’s the Olympic Games because there are not a lot of people,” Marit Bjorgen—10km cross-country skiing silver medalist—said to the Associated Press. “It’s a little disappointing there aren’t a lot of people here.” So what’s the problem?

It isn’t that there’s no place for the amateur athlete. The Summer Olympics, though significantly larger and offering a much greater variety of events, are followed very closely in comparison with their winter counterpart. It isn’t that there aren’t any memorable moments or stories in the Winter Olympics. Any casual follower of the games must have some memory of German skier Hermann Maier’s crash at Nagano, 15 feet in the air and parallel to the ground, or Nancy Kerrigan wailing on national television after Tanya Harding’s goons got to her.

There are certainly recognizable athletes at the winter games: although many people don’t recognize Apolo Anton Ohno, even my mom knows who “that American speed skater with the ugly soul-patch” is. Bode Miller’s name has been all over the news for weeks now. And don’t even get me started on Gretzky’s alleged gambling or the Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi fiasco.

My theory is that it’s simply the events. Everyone’s run a hundred yards before, or can at least fathom throwing a discus or a javelin. We all know hockey players, figure skaters, skiers and even curlers, but who knows anyone that goes 130 km an hour head-first down a track on the weekends, or cross-country skies with a rifle on their back? If I can’t relate to these sports, which are mostly awful spectator events anyways, no wonder people are flipping to Idol to see Simon crush another untalented kid’s dreams.

I don’t really have a solution for the apathy towards the Winter Olympics, but sacrificing the traditional events isn’t an option.

If I have the option of watching Jack Bauer shoot terrorists or watching Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko’s golden locks go crazy as he does some sort of triple axel-double toe craziness, we all know I’m choosing Kiefer Sutherland’s scream-at-everything over-acting above Evgeni’s lustrous ’do. Sorry, Torino.

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