Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Winter Olympics

I'm a self-professed Olympics-junkie. I come by it honestly: my mom loves them, too, and every four years as a kid, the Olympics became sacred appointment television. This is saying a lot, because I have almost no memories of my bookworm mom watching television at any other time, with the exception of an epic mini-series and the Dallas/Dynasty combo. It was the eighties, after all.

Having been raised with a childhood devoid of live-streaming, on-demand, internet-access, "watch these events whenever you feel" possibilities, I have embraced—maybe even gorged, at times—on the all-access media that is now available. Kids who were never given sweets as a kid, even on special occasions, know this story—they get to college, and start calling Cookie Crisp and a Mountain Dew a complete and balanced dinner, at least until they discover that upon finishing their meal, they feel like their brains are about to explode out of their skulls, and their guts are exploding out of the jeans they brought freshman year.

The Olympics, for some reason, still feel like appointment television to me. I realize that the events that we see in the evening are not technically live, given the time-zone difference, and I also appreciate that using our DVR allows me to stop for glasses of water and other interruptions, but for the most part, I try to watch the events as they are presented, without delay, in a retro approach. There is some sacredness about them to me, and as I chat with friends and read posts in social media about Olympics-consumption, this seems to be a theme among my peers.

The summer Olympics are bigger, and they tend to get more fanfare. I'm not going to lie, I'll watch those compulsively, too, but given my choice, I'll take the winter Olympics every time.

The idea that these young athletes, without big endorsements, without million-dollar prospects for a professional sporting career, are putting themselves in harm's way for the love of performing and perfecting their sports: well, that's just something unbelievable, right?  NBC had a summer Olympic track star come to see the ski jump competition the other day, and he nailed the analysis with just the look on his face as he stared down the hill. People can DIE doing that, and it may not even be the most dangerous sport at the event. Skeleton much, lately? Yeah, I think that if my house was on fire, and the only way out was to head face-first down a skeleton track, I'd take my chances with the flames.

Let's face it: Winter Olympic sporting events make NFL players look like overpaid office workers, concussions and all.

The more years I watch the games, the more I like the obscure events. The little girl who sat in her Wisconsin living room with her parents and brothers watching Scott Hamilton win the figure skating gold in Sarajevo is still inside me, but she'd now like to spend some time watching curling. Yes, that's right: curling. Ten-year old me would find that ridiculous, but forty-year old me finds it downright entertaining.

I know some folks are protesting the anti-gay rights policies in Russia by not viewing the Olympics this year. Others are abstaining because of the controversies surrounding the staging of the Olympics themselves, with the displacement of Sochi citizens, animals, etc. I respect these points of view, and I have to say, I feel solidarity in the protest. To me, though, the athletes are the reasons to make the Olympics an occasion. For so many of them, this is it. Just like television watching in the 70s and 80s, the events, themselves, cannot be replayed or redone, cannot be picked up when they feel most ready and approached again. I can't stop watching the Olympics. I can't get over the sense of awe that comes with watching individuals who have sacrificed, prepared, and practiced, show up on their big days and be fully present, no matter what.

I'm too old and too out-of-shape to have the same Olympic fantasies I had as a girl, that I might become an Olympic athlete myself, doing my best on the world stage. When I think about the Olympics, now, I think of them solely as a spectator. I think about the moments with my family as a kid, waiting excitedly to see what happened next, the personal heartbreak of Dan Jansen, the triumph of seeing Torvill and Dean's "Bolero." I think of my year abroad in France, and my trip to Austria during the Lillehammer games, during which the lady who ran the Salzburg hostel at which I was staying saw me peak up to see if she had the Olympics results on the television, then invited me to come up to watch the figure skating finals and alpine skiing with her. She served us both a warm, alcoholic drink that I know had cinnamon in it, and we sat on her couch smiling, oohing and aahing, and making hand gestures to communicate our feelings about the performances and judging across the German/English language barrier.

As I sit on our own couch now, minus the cinnamon-spiced liquor, I think of how inspiring it is to see people try so hard, work so hard, and then be so in the moment. I let my mind wander into pure enjoyment, I let my adrenaline ride up and down with the suspense, the fear, the elation. Then I go to bed feeling happy; happy that—no matter the results—every two years, winter and summer, I can have my own piece of the Olympic spirit reignited, carrying me through my own life's events. 

May everyone feel like the answer to a life seized is to prepare and practice, then just show up and do our best, recognizing that we can handle any outcome, no luge required.

1 comment:

  1. Winter Games are my favorite too, but it's still all about ice skating for me. We were excited to finally have NBC at home so we could watch this Olympics, but then having guests who stay in our TV room and go to bed on Midwest time, we haven't seen a single event so far. Planning on starting tonight.