The Sochi Olympics are over, and we watched them all, every night. Which is to say, we hardly watched the Olympics at all. What we watched instead was NBC’s nightly highlights show. That is to day, we watched a slick, professional, well produced television program every night, hosted by Bob Costas and (thanks to his pinkeye) a few other hosts. We watched those sports NBC deemed particularly interesting to US audiences, which is to say, sports that Americans are particularly good at, or sports where the outcomes supported a particularly uplifting/tragic narrative.
And I loved it. That’s all I wanted to watch anyway. I wanted neat story-lines, I wanted well crafted television. I wanted exciting finishes, or particularly lovely visuals. In short, I wanted to skip all the boring bits.
I say it’s all I could have watched, but that isn’t true. I was gone every night, up in Salt Lake directing a play, but my wife and I had weekends, we found enough time to watch the stuff we wanted to watch. And I could have watched the daytime coverage (much of it in real time) on MSNBC and CNBC and the internet. I didn’t; not at all. Not even the hockey, a sport I basically only follow once every four years. Or curling, a sport I adore, but have no idea how it’s even scored. I was happy enough with Bad Eye Bob, and his nightly highlights show.
It’s true that there were way too many commercials, and that they intruded on the action, but we just fast-forwarded those moments. And they had all those up-close-and-personal athlete profile bits, in which we saw or heard how all the adversity the competitors had overcome. Skipped all those too. I’m an American, gosh-darn it. I have a short attention span. I generally was able to watch a nightly three hour broadcast in a little over an hour, by skipping all the boring parts and going straight to the coolest parts.
And what were the coolest parts? Well, my wife and I both love the ice skating. I love the fact that it straddles the line between an athletic competition and an art form. I like that; I’m a theatre guy, and what I like most is the artistry of it. I’m also not any sort of expert in it. So what I tend to overvalue is the artistic elements of the programs–the stories the programs tell, the attitude they express. So, case in point, we were riveted by the ladies’ skating. The Russian skater, Adelina Sotnikova, and the South Korean, Yuna Kim, were both exquisite, and I thought both deserved gold, and was happy enough when Sotnikova won it, with Kim taking silver. But bronze? The Italian skater, Carolina Kostner, who won bronze, struck me as peculiarly unartistic, especially her short program, skated to “Ave Maria,” with a heavenly chorus and a pious look to the heavens at the end. I found Kostner an unattractive performer, but could see that she was a marvelous athlete, and that her program was very difficult. Gracie Gold, the American girl who finished fourth, had a nasty fall in her free skate, as did Yulina Lipnitskaya, who finished fifth. But I adored the feisty, sassy American Ashley Wagner, and the impish Japanese girl, Akiko Suzuki. I also tend to want to disqualify skaters who fall, or who, in my wife’s phrase, ‘exercise the element known as the spinning butt slide.’ So I had Wagner with the bronze, on my personal, completely inexpert and ill-informed score card. And now I fully intend to go back to ignoring ice skating as a sport until 2018.
As I will other sports that I kind of fell in love with this Olympics. Like slopestyle, both in skiing and snowboarding. It’s a nutty sport, combining jumps, spins, twists, plus a sort of obstacle course. Like many sports at the Olympics, it looked like a sport for crazy people, but the kids who did it sure looked like they were having fun. All the snowboarding events looked fun, and I was delighted with the raffishly dressed, apple cheeked insouciance of the kids who performed. They all seemed as delighted by their competitors’ good runs as with their own, and when they biffed (and all snowboard sports included biffs aplenty), they’d shrug it off: “ah, well.”
I’m just sadistic enough to prefer sports where the athletes fall, or even crash into each other, over sports where they’re essentially racing against a clock. I loved snowboard and skiing cross, for example, in which groups of four or five skiers or snowboarders race down a hill with lots of jumps, and as they struggle for position, often knock each other off the course. I much prefer short track speed skating over long track. Long track’s a bore–they just skate really fast, and without checking out the scoreboard, you have no idea who is fastest. Short track, though, had sharp elbows, fabulous passes, skaters leading into turns inches from other skaters. It’s wonderfully exciting and fun. Best of all, the short track relays, in which you ‘pass the baton’ (so to speak), by giving the next skater on your team a shove on the butt.
As a Norwegian/American, I should probably say something about Ole Einer Bjoerndalen, the greatest winter Olympian ever. And I understand how difficult his sport must be–cross country skiing, combined with target shooting. But to me, it’s a sport more respected than enjoyed. I’ll grant that what Bjoerndalen does is incredibly difficult, and if we ever fight a guerrilla war in a Nordic country, I totally want that dude on my side. At the same time, I don’t understand it well enough to really get into it. I found myself fast-forwarding to the target shooting bits. Sorry, fellow Norwegians; I’m a shallow American after all.
Before the Olympics, the stories were all about inadequate or incomplete facilities. Those ended up not mattering. It was a wonderful two weeks, watching marvelous athletes from all over the world ski and skate. It’s really humanity at its best, human beings celebrating the extraordinary capabilities of their fellow human beings. One American figure skater is 15 years old, and is now the seventh best in the world at her event. Can you imagine that, being 15 and seventh best in the whole world at something? Amazing and lovely. As NBC kept reminding us.