Five Rings and a Yawn

I’m not sure what happened between the Olympics and I.

When I was younger, I used to really enjoy the Olympics. The first Games I remember vividly are the 1996 iteration, in Atlanta. That’s the one where General Mills taught me what rowing is and the concept of terrorism suddenly sprouted from the seed Timothy McVeigh had sown a year earlier.

I don’t remember many specifics from Atlanta, but I do remember the opening and closing ceremonies and just how aware of the Olympiad I was that summer. It was everywhere and as a little kid who loved sports, it was a pretty big deal.

My Olympic memories are scattered from there. I watched a week’s worth of the Nagano (1998) games live on CBC while home sick from school. I have all of USA Hockey’s losses filed away for safekeeping, from the Loonie Under the Ice Game to Crosby Officially Owning Ryan Miller contest. My personal favorite is the We Aren’t That Good Let’s Break Some Furniture losers from 1998.

While the Winter Games are dominated by hockey in my mind, interest in the Summer Games has diminished for me over the years. The more I’ve thought about the London Games over the last few weeks, the less I’ve actually cared about what happens there.

I won’t deny that the spectacle of the Olympics can be stunning. People are still raving about the Beijing opening ceremonies nearly four years later, and few people think 30 Mary Poppins fighting a gigantic Lord Voldemort can top them. London doesn’t have choreographed labor camps of doom to practice in, so expectations are cautiously low.

So much of the Olympic experience, the parts we see on television, seems silly. The tape-delayed nightly recaps devoid of any drama if you own an internet connection. The tear-jerking vignettes that bring gravity to obscure events like Judo and Fencing. The stale Cold War jingoism and medal counts to confirm that we really are good at stuff after all. It feels as if I am a generation too late for that stuff to really hit me the way it does others.

I am fascinated by the impact of the Games, what its infrastructure brings to a city and its long term effects are. Athens has become a cautionary tale of sorts, while looking back at older sites is always an interesting experience. Hosting an Olympiad changes your city forever, if you do it right.

Beyond that larger look at the economic ecosystem, these London Olympics offer little intrigue. The early storylines built up by the media haven’t taken hold, I don’t care what Mitt Romney has to say about London and the IOC has little interest in addressing anything serious with these Games. This is a party, a really expensive one that I’m sure everyone’s been paid very handsomely for. Except, you know, the athletes.

What I’ve realized is that the more I learn about the Olympics, the less I really like them. The whimsy that comes with obscure sports fades early. Then we’re left with horses and Dream Teams and little else.

I mean, let’s talk Rafalca.

With a milk chocolate coat, raven tail and white socks above three of her hooves, Rafalca will next be seen in the dressage ring on Aug. 2, performing in a sport sometimes referred to as horse ballet in which a horse and rider, typically clad in a top hat, tails and riding boots, perform a series of complex movements, often to music. Her pedigree is supreme.

This is an Olympic athlete, a part of the Olympics we’re supposed to take seriously. How much of Rafalca’s quest for equine immortality can you endure before you start snickering? How far removed from reality must you be before your local media desperately searching for local angles about the Olympics becomes too much?

I feel like I’m missing something important when I talk about the Olympics like this. There must be something I’m just not seeing. I simply don’t understand the fascination with America’s men’s basketball team, which has been covered like the British Royal Family by the American media these days. Is rooting for the casino fun when you’re playing blackjack? Let me know after you find another photo Kevin Love tweeted of millionaires on private planes.

Better yet, explain to me why we’re still talking about a basketball team that played a few times 20 years ago. Why does this even matter? The question is not rhetorical. I’m genuinely curious, and I’ve never really been given a good answer.

I will watch parts of the Olympics, sure. I still like soccer and all that, and there’s really not much on during the early parts of August. My intrigue over the next few weeks will be very different than it once was. Gone are the days where I was glued to the television or tallying up gold medals in my head. In their place are occasional glances at the television while reading stories about brand police and unique Olympic artwork. These days I get a very different feeling when I see those five interlocking rings.

Maybe I’m just getting older. I know the Games sure are.

One Comment

  1. Zack

    Coming from someone who only occasionally follows sports, I find watching the Olympics interesting for more social reasons. Don’t get me wrong I really enjoy watching the different events and do root for my favorite athletes. The thing I find the most amazing though is that some many different countries around the world set aside their difference and come together to party for two weeks. Sure there are incidents like boycotts and the Munich assassinations but for the most part, especially in our lifetimes, there haven’t been any major issues. Think about it, when else do Iran, Israel, and Palestine all come together and aren’t fighting? When else do you see North and South Korea marching together (granted this only happened once, the opportunity doesn’t come up in other situations)? When else do billions of people watch the same thing on television? This is the reason I really enjoy watching the Olympics, for the social implications. Maybe it is a mushy reason but it really does give me some hope that the world isn’t all bad.

    An interesting side note on social aspects of the Olympics. The IOC has allowed 3 athletes to be “Independent Olympic Athletes” this year. I am not sure they have done this in the past but it is the first time I noticed it. They are athletes that don’t want to associate with any nation. I think they are mainly athletes that don’t support their home government, etc. This concept is another that brings similar feelings to me.