Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Winter Olympics 2006: who needs rules? bring on the danger!

I've loved watching the Olympics since I can remember ever seeing them, and I like that they alternate between summer and winter games every two years instead of both together every four years. Sure, there's definitely the feeling of international intrigue involved.... the whole world is watching, after all. The winter Olympics are my favorite, I think, because the sports all have a higher degree of speed. Spectators get rattles and airhorns. There's more room for wilcard antics, too, and that's what ultimately makes some good television.

Sports can be dangerous.... Olympic sports even more so. Maybe it's something from the gladiator rule book, a way to test the true Olympian in the athlete. Unless we happen to be on the sidelines of whatever event is going on in Turin this year, we all watch the Olympics on TV. We watch so we can root on for our home country or whoever else we prefer. We watch because we want to see a little bit of catastrophe, too. It's kind of like a weird collision of reality television and traditional sporting events. I'm not in it to see people get hurt, but if the favored athlete takes a nasty spill and the underdog leaps to the podium with an unexpected gold medal, I'm stoked. This kind of intrigue, this unexpected plot twist (if you will) is what makes good television all around, and the Olympics are no exception.

Because most of the events involve speed and similar athletic technical tricks, the Olympics can be a little monotonous. Every bobsled race, luge race, alpine downhill ski race, speed skating race, and figure skating competition can all be fairly uninteresting because fundamentallly they're all the same. Isn't it more fun when someone breaks the mold? More often than not the mold is broken when someone screws up.... but can we all agree that we're guilty of being glued to the screen when we see catastrophe? When that favored downhill skier wipes out halfway down the course? When that figure skater tries their triple salchow and lands on their ass? When the bobsled flips over and flies down the ice chute upside down? At the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, another bland speed skating race was suddenly turned very fast-paced when one skater wiped out and took out the three favored leaders. To see them all careening into the sidelines and the slow one in the back leap forward is a crazy turn of events.... and that's what made an awesome race. Sure it may not be fair, but it's the potential nature of the sport on a short track, and somehow we know this in the back of our minds when we tune in.

I imagine the reason why the events are discussed by hypercritical, negative, and sometimes rather irritating commentators is because we want to know when someone is screwing up. This breaks up the monotony, however miniscule the differences are. If we can't see it, then I guess we have to hear about nitpick by nitpick. It's similar to a writing workshop, actually, except the atheletes are spared hearing the commentators talk about how much they suck.

I think the reason why figure skating is the most popular winter Olympic sport is because of its unpredictability, in comparison to the other events. Sure, it is beautiful to watch too, and other sports don't have this kind of artistry to them. Just to watch these people take on those jumps and spins and lifts are enough to tempt accident. Everyone who competes is so good at what they do that the performances kind of bleed togther. I'm not sure how to tell the differences between all the jumps they can do, but the point is that everybody does all of them. Why not let the daredevils really defy death for us on the ice? Freestyle skiing is a lot of fun to watch.... how those skiers fly in the air with 720° turns and flips, grabbing their skis and diving to the ground with a triumphant wham is beyond me. It's the kind of sport that I guess has to be done right the first time; there isn't much room for error. So, if skiers are allowed to have two entire events (moguls and aerials) to the credit of freestyle daredevil antics, why not figure skaters? The backflip is deemed illegal by the figure skating judges, for some reason or another.... not graceful enough? Too dangerous?

At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, French figure skater Surya Bonaly was nearing the end of a calamitous final program. She started missing jumps and losing speed on her spins, and there was no way she could make it into medal contention. This was her second or even third Olympics, and after this program she would be going professional anyway.... so she gave a wide smile, winked, and flew in the air with a backflip and landed on one foot. She's probably the only person in the world who can do that. From there on out, she didn't care about the medals; she was giving a performance. The crowd was at their feet, the irritating commentators were stunned, and Surya Bonaly ended her program with her arms out to the audience and her back to the judges. I saw it all live on TV. Now that is the reason why I watch the Olympics.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Whats the deal with those commentators!?!? I hate them! Who do they think they are.

"Wow, you can see that the skaters are nervous because of the falls earlier tonight." How do they know? More like, "I am pulling crap out of my ass because I have to fill the silence with my irritating comments."

Anyhow, I have only got to watch the Olympics once this year and the announcers were bothering me.

By the way, NY here I come! (I think...)