Canucks and Beyond

Warping the Olympic Spirit

08/18/2008 at 6:48pm EDT

I love watching the Olympics but it occurs to me to wonder: Is there something a bit… off… about watching this stuff?

While it’s amazing to witness the triumphs (i.e. the Michael Phelps story was a big ‘wow’ (not to mention, a financial payoff likely to make even Mats Sundin jealous); or the redemption of the Canadian men’s eights as they abolished memories of Athens, etc) it seems that far more Olympic-watching-time is about witnessing disasters than successes.

In Jim Leff’s personal blog, he compared it to watching NASCAR, “where the ‘entertainment’ is in the wrecks” but that for him, “watching kids have their dreams crushed feels like the worst kind of torture.”

That’s so true. And yet for some reason I’d watch this stuff 10 hours a day if I could. Why is that?

Honestly, I don’t get any joy out of watching kids cry as their hopes and dreams go up in smoke as they’re measured to the 1/100th of a second for their ability to fail.

Nor to I mind much about ‘my’ national team winning/losing—I get more emotionally invested in the athletes than their nationalities.

So I guess that most of the time I just seek out and hope for the redeeming moments amidst all that failure. A search for inspiration. Like Usain Bolt’s win of the 100 meter gold medal, an event certainly worth the price of admission.

And yet I’ll admit, some of the NASCAR-type disaster elements can be fun.

Today’s China/USA baseball game for example. From Michael Rosenberg at the Detroit Free Press:

[By] the time the game ended, the U.S had won, 9-1; Chinese pitchers had beaned five American hitters, including star Matt LaPorta in the head; the U.S. had plunked two Chinese hitters and nearly knocked two Chinese catchers out of the game; and the umpires had been replaced by members of the U.N. Security Council.

Now to me, that sounds like epic fun to watch. So maybe it’s true that I also watch the Olympics for the possibility of witnessing a hint of violence in such an inappropriate, odd venue.

I mean, people can’t be down on hockey all the time if even at the world’s biggest sporting event—which is meant to celebrate all the greatness of the human spirit, (etc etc)—occasionally results in one dude nailing another dude in the head with a ball.

And that just means more fun for the fans.

[When] you don’t expect to win — ever — then it’s actually easier to cheer. For example, when your team is down 9-0, and backup catcher Yang Yang exacts revenge by hitting a home run off Tigers minor leaguer Blaine Neal, you go nuts.

Yang reacted as though he had just won a World Series between Earth and Mars. He circled the bases with one finger in the air, then did some sort of dance move that ended with him touching home plate.

After the final out of the night, Neal tossed the game ball toward the Chinese dugout. So it was a wonderful night all around for the grand old game of baseball, not to mention international diplomacy. For the last four innings, it really felt like a brawl would break out.

Chaos… and I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing.

Besides, in some ways I think the potential for violence makes the whole spectacle more ‘human’ in some weird way. Why else would the Olympic committee tolerate soccer—an event where the fans are even more famous for bloodsport than the athletes? ;)

But if a hint of violent emotion isn’t your thing, there’s always other odd entertainment to draw you in. How about odd names?



Alas. Immature, but it made me smile. :-)

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