Olympic Matchstick

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I really wanted to enjoy the Olympics. It’s something I remember being a big deal when we were kids. It was a family event. We would watch the games together. And it was actually quite educational. We’d learn about the events, the equipment, the scoring, and the host country. And there’d be side stories about the athletes and their families, the years of training and dedication, their particular skills, struggles, and triumphs. The Olympic athletes were the underdogs…the wholesome, hard-working and ambitious. They were honored to qualify, and they were thrilled if they earned a medal of any kind, let alone a gold. In the early days of the games, the opening ceremonies focused on the athletes and the countries participating, featuring the flags of each nation, the oath that the athletes took, and the lighting of the torch to begin the games. Then it was down to business.

This year, I confirmed that I really don’t enjoy watching the games any more. Some things have been bothering me for a while, but now I’m convinced that it’s just not the same. The first thing to disappoint me was the IOC deciding to allow professional athletes to participate in the Olympics. No more wholesome, dedicated young people trying to achieve their personal best. Now it was about the money, the advertising, and the fame. Professional teams even suspend their regular game schedules so that team members can participate in the Olympics.

The next disappointment was the change in the opening and closing ceremonies. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s gotten awfully over the top, hasn’t it? The money, the costumes, the choreography, the special effects, the zillions of people involved, and the length of the programs. Is it even about the athletes or the competition any more? When the athletes enter the venue, it’s all about their costumes…which designer was responsible, and how stylish they look. The torch is lit in such a spectacular fashion that we hardly notice who is doing the lighting, or how the torch got there. And I just get lost in the complexities of the show. Just a lot of “unique” music, movement, and glitz.

Then there are the commentators. I like to refer to them as “common taters” though. Some are pretty good about saying encouraging things along the way, even as an athlete falls or fails. But others, in particular the female figure skating commentators, come off rather smug and judgmental. Here are these athletes pulling off unbelievable spins, jumps, throws and catches, on very slippery ice, and all Ms. Former Figure Skating Champion can say is something like, “She knew better than to try that jump,” or, “That’s just not his best…he’s really going to lose points on that.” Let’s keep things in perspective…the commentators have come to expect nothing short of perfection. But the judges never find ANYONE perfect.

Now we come to the level of competition, and the technology that has changed things. Now we have sophisticated timing devices that measure down to the hundredth of a second, and sleds that can reach speeds comparable with the Daytona 500. We have suits that are streamlined to shave seconds off of skaters’ times, and skis that are made and treated to allow skiers to literally fly down the hills. Now the skaters are attempting jumps and spins that are so difficult, that even the gold medal winners can fall during a routine and still come out on top. The athletes expect so much of themselves, and the judges and fans expect that perfection. Many of the athletes are only focused on gold, and if they get anything less, some of them don’t even seem to recognize what an accomplishment they’ve reached. I think we’ve outsmarted ourselves into a whole different kind of competition.

As a viewer at home, I feel very uninformed, especially about the scoring and the gist of each event. Scoring has changed over the years, and the commentators don’t spend much time at all talking about how events are scored. There’s also very little explanation of what each event entails, and the rules and strategies that go along with it. Unless you yourself have recently competed in any of these sports, you are in the dark as to how the athletes are being judged.

And my last complaint is that, although there were a few side stories provided about some of the athletes, they paled in comparison to the hour long, in depth review of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding debacle of twenty years ago. Really? Aren’t the present-day athletes and their stories of hard work to get where they are way more important than whose ex-husband cracked who in the shin twenty years ago??

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