Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Enough Olympics

Apropos of the Winter Olympics, I'm replaying this old piece:

I'm through with the Olympics.

If you're not really into rooting for your country to win (whatever that even means), there are three ways the Games can make you feel:

1. Numbly awed (by the physical attainments of kids who've devoted their lives to rotely drilling the same moves over and over and over, and who now perform those moves in a state of highly contagious anxiety and terror),

2. Disconsolate (watching the anguish of kids who've devoted their lives to rotely drilling the same moves over and over and over who happen to sneeze or wobble this particular time, making it all for naught), or

3. Inspired (by talented athletes performing in a state of transcendent joy...as a palpable expression of love for what they do, rather than a creepy merging of naked ambition and robotic dehumanization.

Obviously, there's not much #3 happening.

Anyway, I just had my heart broken watching little Cheng Fei burst into bitter tears after some stray impulse landed her on her bum amid an otherwise flawless execution of a series of essentially meaningless super-difficult maneuvers. That, in turn, came after little Alicia Sacramone was bitterly tearful after being shut out of a vaulting medal when Cheng Fei's landing bauble was deigned less significant than her's. Which took place after a Brazilian man performed a floor routine with a galvanizing grace that achieved result #3, but who suddenly lost it and fell-down-went-boom, and a Brazilian woman performed a sublimely ecstatic floor routine that merited no consideration at all because her foot went outside the line ("That sure was energetic," was all the commentator could say). God bless Brazil, which, naturally, has never medaled in this event. The man's shattered face, relentlessly pursued by NBC's shameless, merciless cameramen, will continue to haunt me.

Gymnastics and diving are like piano competitions, where all glory goes to whoever commits the fewest errors. It's an aesthetically repulsive framework, more befitting of a factory assembly line than any sort of noble human achievement. And for those of us following along, it's like watching NASCAR, where the "entertainment" is in the wrecks (hence the insatiable thirst of those cameramen for teary money shots).

There are people whose lives are so grimly numb that only via voyeuristic identification with crashing cars and inconsolable kids can they can feel anything. And there are people more impressed by cold perfection than by raw, real, flawed beauty.

Me? I've come to realize that the Olympics is all downside. Cold rote perfection does little for me, but watching kids have their dreams crushed feels like the worst kind of torture. I can't understand why I've been giving this four hours of my nightly attention.

4 comments:

Pat said...

My favorite moment thus far was watching Alexandre Bilodeau receive the Gold Medal for Canada after winning the Men's Moguls. I far prefer the Winter Olympics.

adamclyde said...

I gave up my TV a few months ago and so far, I haven't missed it. Until the Olympics. I live for the Olympics. I always have and I still do. So I'm on the opposite side of the fence - one who wishes I could get more of it (even when I had TV, I couldn't get enough). Yes, it's heartbreaking to see missed dreams. And yes, the TV crews love to home in on the broken dreamer. But, I doubt a single one of those athletes would trade the experience. Certainly they'd have wished the outcome were different, but the experience is one I'm sure all are ecstatic to have participated in. So why should we feel bad about sharing in that participation?

I'm nostalgic and naive, I know, but I still feel like the Olympics brings out so much that is good. For the most part, it still bridges geographical divides. The stories and feats are truly inspirational. I'm not ignorant that much beneath the competition is crass money grabbing. But I'll still take the Olympics because in the end, that shared experience of watching - literally with the world - of competition, feats of amazing athleticism, great stories of success and failure is something I find absolute pure pleasure in.

And, considering it comes only once every two years (winter + summer games) I wish they'd dedicate MORE programming to it.

Maybe it's just me. I'm a sucker.

Jim Leff said...

-------
"Yes, it's heartbreaking to see missed dreams. And yes, the TV crews love to home in on the broken dreamer. But, I doubt a single one of those athletes would trade the experience."
-------

Well, that's their perspective. From my perspective, the problem is that I don't see my upside, as a viewer, to match the downside of my feeling awful for some 16 year old whose life just collapsed because she didn't quite stick the landing of her quadruple double twist philodendron turn.

I don't see joy in any of the performances. It's just people performing rote maneuvers in a spirit of anxious trepidation, with the best a tenth of a second faster (or a tenth of a point higher) than the worst. It's a great big wash, and it feels oppressive to me, with the stress and the palpable mind-numbing repetition that went into it all. There's heart break on the one hand (which I share) and, on the other hand, there's jocks getting medals (which I don't). Idunno.

I guess some people get off on the nationalistic aspect of medaling, but I never understood the concept of rooting for one's country (except, like, against invaders shooting guns), so I don't thrill at all to see the 87th American gold medal awarded.

All in all, it's sort of like watching people stand pins on end. When they succeed, you sort of nod disconnectedly and say, yep, that sure is a lot of pins. When they don't, you want to beat your head into a wall. And the pin-standing process is ulcer-burning in its stressfulness.

Dave said...

I'm not sure if it applies to the superstars, but this video and story shows how important the Olympics are to even professional athletes: http://sports.espn.go.com/los-angeles/nhl/columns/story?id=4908628

Jim, I think if you watched the snowboarders, you would have seen lots of smiles, camaraderie and downright fun.

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