Sochi: Why we watched/Michael Bleach
The curling, boarding, biathloning, triple-axeling two weeks of jingoism has come to an end.
No more cringe-inducing Bode Miller interviews. No more hating on Canadian hockey, eh. No more stinkin’ Bob Costas pink-eye jokes. Now if I say “the skip’s got the hammer with an easy draw to the button for two,” people will look at me like I misplaced my meds.
The Sochi Winter Olympics have closed. And while the Vladimir Putin quips will hopefully never end, they have been redirected to matters of state, rather than matters of cardboard hotels and stray dog genocide.
It was two weeks of fun, passion, distraction, imagination and whatever Johnny Weir is.
There is a question that lurks underneath the surface of all this though. It’s a question present at every Olympics, winter or summer, eastern or Moscow time, Costas or Michaels.
Why do we care?
Why do we throw ourselves into two weeks of obscure competition between athletes we have never heard of and will only hear of again come Thursday bar trivia?
I do it. You do it. The contrarian hipster in Brooklyn named Otis cursed Under Armour’s failed speedskating technology along with the rest of us.
But there is plenty of reason not to.
The Olympics are corrupt. There is no doubt about that. It’s only a question of degrees.
Whether it is events determined by judges – there were two controversies alone in figure skating this year and the 2002 Winter Olympics double-gold fiasco still reverberates every four years – or hockey officials deciding Jocelyne Lamoureux’s love tap was a slash and Jonathan Quick’s net was off it’s mooring, most every country could find a grievance.
And the podium questions are minor compared to the logistical corruption.
The New York Times has reported that Russian taxpayers will account for an estimated 90 percent of the $51 billion cost to get Sochi up to IOC standard – a heavy bill for two weeks of fun, one certainly aided by a cut here, kickback there and skimming at every construction site.
The future of Sochi remains exceptionally murky. Is there any way the area can continue to support four ski resorts and 40,000 hotel rooms once the Olympic fans and athletes leave? Or will it become a ghost town, a stable of abandoned skating rinks and empty restaurants that serve as a cautionary tale until we gear up again four years later? That is taking the boom or bust mining town debate to a whole different stratosphere.
Take into account the ethical and humanitarian quandaries – how comfortable are you supporting a country and government that treats its gay citizens one step above the stray dogs the Russians put down en masse? – and there is a whole gondola full of reasons to avoid the Olympics.
But we don’t. Liberal, conservative, North, South, whatever. We all watch. It’s why NBC paid a reported $775 million to the IOC for the broadcasting rights.
There are obvious reasons, sure – ‘Merica and all that.
But I think there is something deeper than plain old nationalism.
The Olympics don’t just provide us with a two-week distraction from our jobs, they provide a distraction from the local and national sports scene.
MLB players have reported for spring training, and with that news comes questions and stories of Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, PED’s and the evil Jeffrey Loria.
The NFL no longer has an offseason, as resident racist Ritchie Incognito keeps reminding us with mouth-breathing rants on Twitter.
The NCAA is the NCAA.
The idea of sports figures as heroes and role models has long been dead. As it should be. These guys should be admired for their hard work, athleticism and technique, not their grasp of the human condition.
But a 24/7, Deadspin, TMZ, Signing Day, Twitterverse has picked out each and every flaw of our athletes and shined a spotlight on it.
Not only is the idea of athletes as role models long gone, but the notion that the majority of athletes are even decent human beings seems to be fighting a losing battle.
So it’s nice to take a two week break from all of that. We can project Olympic men and women to be whatever we want them to be. Chances are, we will never find out if we are wrong.
I have no idea how nice Charlie White and Meryl Davis really are. I do not know if Sage Kotsenburg is as chill as he seems to be.
But I do know that Braun took performance-enhancing drugs, lied about it when caught, lied about the cover up and then issued an apology that Rob Ford thought was weak.
Brewers fans will have to spend months grappling with their feelings for Braun.
But Sage Kotsenburg will always be a guy that got you stoked one Saturday afternoon.