Not Russian to the TV/The Red Line
While sitting at home trying to stay warm and contemplating New Year’s Eve plans Tuesday night, I stumbled upon a marathon of clips from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Of course, I watched it for more than two hours, but I came to the realization this moment was the first one in which I’d really looked forward to the Winter Games coming up in about six weeks in Sochi. I haven’t even bought a Sochi Olympic T-shirt this year.
Given my columns about London, this blas stance may come as a bit of a surprise, but Olympic fever is setting in much more slowly.
At the front of my mind is the setting. Maybe you noticed, but Sochi is in Russia, on the Black Sea, to be exact. Though this isn’t exactly Rocky vs. Ivan Drago in an unsanctioned bout for no money in front of the Politburo on Christmas Day, make no mistake: Sochi is a road game for Team USA, and not a particularly fun one.
I minored in political science in college. Normally, I use this portion of my education to contribute to political arguments with my friends and family on Facebook, but back in the day, I wrote about Russian ‘democracy’ under Vladimir Putin, and it’s really only gotten worse for those interested in things like press freedom and legitimate political opposition.
The 2008 Summer Games in Beijing were awarded in hopes they’d make China a more open nation with respect for human rights, but they basically turned into an opportunity for the government to get its people in line and show off its strength.
Make no mistake, Putin will get his screen time and the International Olympic Committee is glad to give it to him, because they don’t care who does the paying as long as they get paid.
It should come as no surprise that Russia is getting a World Cup soon (2018) as well, while the U.S. Olympic Committee gave up on even bidding for the games until it recently smoothed out a rift with the IOC over money earned from television rights.
The U.S. is now 18 years removed from its last Summer Games, 12 from its last Winter Games and won’t host either again until at least the winter of 2022 or summer of 2024.
Geopolitical concerns aside, it’s just darned inconvenient. Sochi is nine hours ahead of the U.S., which means most stuff I’ll want to watch will be taking place in the late (or even worse) early morning. This happens to be the time we put this paper together. I figure many of you have school or day jobs yourselves that may preclude your ability to watch curling.
It won’t get better any time soon – the next Winter Olympics, in 2018, are in South Korea, which is 14 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
As for waiting for the heavily processed primetime results package, well, the National Hockey League may be suspending its season for the Olympics, I highly doubt the Great Lakes Hockey Conference will, nor the WCHA, WestPAC or Copper Country Conference.
And now, the events themselves. The Winter Games feature a significantly higher amount of judged sports: figure skating, ski jumping, freestyle skiing, several snowboard events like halfpipe, etc.
I don’t exactly study these disciplines in great detail, and though I know that when the competitor falls on his or her rear end, their likelihood of winning a medal decreases drastically, the fine stuff that separates first from 10th is much harder than when I watch, say, the 400-meter run in the Summer Games and pretty clearly tell who the top three finishers are without significant explanation.
And sometimes when they do provide significant explanation, the judging decisions defy it anyway unless you include reputation, being from the right country and writing a large enough check.
What sports aren’t judged often are ‘race-against-the-clock’ affairs (long-track speed skating, luge, bobsled, Alpine skiing) in which the same camera angles are repeated over and over down the hill, and though I have longed for match racing with bobsleds and a little NASCAR-style jostling in the turns, the existence of razor sharp blades probably makes this unlikely.
Skier- and snowboard-cross (four people racing each other down the hill) are now part of the Olympic program and though quite watchable, they’re also quite lucrative for orthopedic surgeons around the globe.
So yeah, I’m still working my way up to excited for Sochi, though I am very excited about the number of potential jokes I can make about “Rocky IV” over the course of the Olympiad.
I hold out hope, however, in the knowledge that if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change!
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale.