2010-03-05 / On Second Thought

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation

Enjoying the Winter Olympics
By Mike Cox

Like everybody else, I was watching the Winter Olympics last week; switching between a women’s curling match featuring Belarus and Slovakia and a Nordic combined endurance race. That’s where the participants have to fly off a ski jump, do about 20 miles cross country, and then hunt deer. NBC promised the men’s pairs ice dancing was coming on in 17 minutes.

America doesn’t do Winter Olympics very well. Oh, we watch; we just don’t comprehend what we are watching. We barely understand the summer games, and we relate to those sports. Who can explain curling? Or Team Pursuit?

We need to drink beer and argue about strategy. How does someone from Pelion, SC, who has seen ice and snow three times in his whole life, argue over the steering technique of the Finnish luge team? And who understands short track relays? That looks like somebody stepped on a fire ant bed.

Still, if television tells us it is important, we will watch, and figure out the rules as we go. We may not understand the fine points of a triple toe loop, but we can tell who finishes first, who jumps the longest, and who gives the best checks against the boards.

Many years ago, athletic Greeks got together and wrestled, raced, and threw spears and rocks. They argued about who accomplished more while they drank together and sang stupid songs. The current Olympics evolved from this idea. At some point the IOC got involved and messed up everything.

National pride, politics, and TV money influenced most of the changes, and every year something happens to underline that concept. Some young athlete does something unacceptable to the stodgy relics who run things. Apologies are made. Changes are implemented.

I wonder why they even have winter games. In the summer all you have to plan for is rain. In the winter you have wind, ice, too much snow, too little snow, melting snow, avalanches, and rain. In the summer you need grass.

The winter events require several types of snow, flat and downhill ice tracks, and enough St. Bernards with little casks of rum to take care of a couple hundred thousand people. You even need mountains. You can’t just conjure up a mountain. Selecting the right site is a complicated decision.

And who picks the competitive events? If Americans controlled things, baseball would be in the Olympics instead of rhythmic gymnastics, basketball would be part of the winter games, and football, REAL football, would be the anchor event of the winter games instead of figure skating.

The approval process is impossible to comprehend. No one knows how some sports are selected and others aren’t. There are contests involved in the winter olympics that had to be invented by drunken Vikings as a joke. And more recent additions are what skateboarders get arrested for in small southern towns.

But not even drunk Vikings can explain how we got from Spartan athletes to Johnny Weir in feathers. Not even Bob Costas can explain that one.

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