People don’t seem to make much fuss about the Winter Olympics. Sure, the Games might not have the historical heft of their summer equivalent, but who cares, they’re fun to watch. I’ve done a bit of asking around, and it seems there are some who consider it a stretch to call certain Winter Olympic events actual sports, and it’s thanks to people marching under this banner that curling’s been given something of a tricky time. The argument’s often made that the sport (from this you can infer my stance) is essentially shuffleboard on ice and therefore requires about as much athleticism as grocery shopping. But I wonder how many of curling’s detractors have ever tried vigorously sweeping solid ice while shuffling sideways in glorified bowling shoes. I’m guessing not many. And it’s not like the Summer Olympics are without their own “sports.” Can anyone say ping-pong? How about archery?
Athleticism aside though, the Olympics are supposed to be about nations coming together to demonstrate the possibility of bonhomonious intermingling and international sportsmanship. These ideals are often difficult to pick up on, especially for those of us who haven’t traveled to see the Games live. Most of us rely on television to watch the events, and that usually means putting ourselves at the mercy of national networks’ programming and commentary crews who, perhaps justifiably, exhibit at least a minimal bias in favour of their own country’s participants. Several friends in the States have bemoaned NBC’s atrocious coverage of the Games and the virtual impossibility of that network broadcasting an event in which an American didn’t stand a chance of medaling. This policy strikes me as deviating somewhat from the Olympic ideal, and it makes me realise how lucky we were here in Europe to have had Eurovision’s online coverage. Six channels of live streaming sports, not a syllable of commentary, and all the ambient sound you could want. Even the camera shots were different, or at least protracted. Instead of listening to someone rattle on about Lindsay Vonn’s cheese-marinated shin, I got to watch the competitors in the ladies giant slalom shoot the breeze in the starting area; got to see the marshals tend to an alarmingly decayed course, and got to see Julia Mancuso and Chemmy Alcott laugh at videos of the latter on her iPod. Eurovision gave us a glimpse into the human, non-commercial, PR-free side of the Games, and it was great.And speaking of great, how about Petra Majdic? Who’s that, you ask? Only the current national hero of Slovenia. She was also the gold medal favourite in the women’s 1.4 km cross country classic sprint, at least until she hit a patch of ice during the warmup and fell three metres into a ravine that was not only cleverly unprotected, but was also full of large, rather unfriendly rocks. Medics managed to withdraw her from the mess, and she somehow got back on her skis in time for the race’s first heat, which she not only finished but actually won, despite clearly being in agony. A cursory medical examination before the final cleared her to compete, and so she lined up at the start. Three minutes and change later she’d won the bronze medal, which might sound disappointing until you fast forward a bit to her next, more comprehensive, medial examination and the revelation that she’d just managed to finish a couple of seconds off the amazing Marit Bjorgen’s gold medal pace while skiing with five broken ribs and a punctured lung. Think about that the next time you wonder what the difference is between Olympic athletes and the rest of us.
On a related note, this being the cyber era, a lot of Olympians have blogs, some of which are rather enjoyable to read. I have a personal bias toward Nordic racers and will accordingly direct you to Andy Newell, a fellow Vermonter, and to Devon Kershaw, who not only has the distinction of being a fellow Canadian (I’ve lived in a few places, you know), but who also skied his way to 5th in the infamous 50km, aka the marathon of the Winter Games. He might have mixed feelings about his result, but I don’t. Awfully impressive.Two more years until the next go ‘round, which, in case you haven’t heard, will be right here in London. Should be terribly interesting…and mighty crowded.