Let’s face it, only a few million Scandinavians and Canadians care at all about the Winter Olympics, and the Canadians only care about the ice hockey. But all the same, the Winter Olympics take place during … winter, and there’s nothing else on TV, so … let the Games begin!
By Roberto De Vido
As you’re reading this, of course, the Games are well under way. During the first week of action, we’ve seen Western journalists plot against Vladimir Putin’s Russia by complaining that the toilet paper in their hotel rooms is not soft enough, and that the promised hot-and-cold running Belarussian strippers are too busy catering to the needs of the IOC delegates to make their way to the media’s assigned hotels. And we’ve seen that Sochi is really not cold enough to host a Winter Olympics, but half the events are indoors, so who cares?
I’m kind of an Olympics guy. I attended my first Games aged 12, in Montreal in 1976, where I saw a wide range of events, including a perfect “10” from Romanian gymnast Nadia Comeneci. Surprisingly—because Montreal was the Games after Munich—security seemed almost nonexistent, and the athletes were everywhere. (My brother got hundreds of autographs, and I imagine there’s a statue of him somewhere in Sierra Leone to this day, commemorating his keen interest in that country’s Olympic athletes.) I then attended Los Angeles in 1984, and Nagano in 1998, and believe it or not, I nearly qualified to run the marathon in the Atlanta Games in 1996.
So, I like it.
BUT, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. And there are a lot of bogus events in the Winter Games.
There will be 12(!) new sports at the Winter Olympics this year, including the ludicrous “team figure skating” and the bizarre hybrid “skiathlon”: an event dreamed up by a marketing genius who thought it would be a good idea to combine two existing cross-country ski events to create a third event, in which we see neither the best “classical” skier in the world, nor the best “free” skier in the world, but the best skier who can do both to a decent standard, and change skis in between. Yawn.
One that’s new that I like is women’s ski jumping. As the ladies have said, “Why not us?” Exactly. I’m in favor.
…the promised hot-and-cold-running Belarussian strippers are too busy catering to the needs of the IOC delegates to make their way to the media’s assigned hotels…
Another one that’s new and completely ridiculous, but has the potential to be fun, is the luge team relay. Three sleds—a man, a woman and a men’s pair, in consecutive order—down the track, with each successive sled departing the start when the preceding luger touches a timing pad at the finish. Hilarious, crazy, potentially fun. I’d like to see it somehow incorporate beer drinking.
Snowboard parallel slalom has been added this year as well, and that’s fun to watch. When I attended the Nagano Games, I found that most Winter Olympic sports can be divided into sports that are timed (boring, because it’s impossible to know what’s happening until the last competitor has finished) and sports that are judged (frustrating, because of all the cheating).
Side-by-side sports, though, are great: there’s nothing more fun than watching world-class athletes crumble (or succeed!) under pressure. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.
So, there are new events. Some I like, some I don’t. What about the existing events? During the many, many Samsung commercials (sometimes the same one twice during a single break!), I’ve had ample opportunity to formulate my view, and I feel I must share.
Out. Ridiculous, at least until iRobot can introduce a Roomba that can work well on ice.
Short-track speed skating
Out. Sure, it’s fun to watch, but medals appear to be awarded randomly, to skaters who don’t fall.
Freestyle snowboarding and skiing?
Keep them, because they’re fun to watch, but make them exhibition events, with no medals. Let’s take the pressure off these dudes and dudettes and let them get back to shredding for the pure joy of it. I read that men’s slopestyle gold medal winner Sage Kotsenburg replaced a “sick” jump during his final run with a safer trick because he had seen the judges weren’t awarding top points for maximum “sickness”. He played it safe, which is sensible, but if there hadn’t been a medal at stake, we would have had a better show.
Make that an exhibition as well. The scoring rules have been changed so they’re incomprehensible, and very likely as susceptible as ever to manipulation.
Finally, and most controversially, let’s get rid of ice hockey. As is true of basketball, tennis, soccer and baseball (from 1984–2008), ice hockey exists in a better form (or at least, is played at a higher level) outside the Olympic Games. On the women’s side, the Olympic ice hockey tournament pits whales (the Canadian and American women have won every gold and silver medal except one since women’s ice hockey was included in the Games in 1998) against minnows (the other day, the US women crushed Switzerland, one of the top four seeds, 9-0), and on the men’s side, it demands for coaches to cobble together teams of pros—hired guns—who play together once every four years.
So what would my Winter Olympic Games look like?
It would include traditional alpine skiing—downhill, giant slalom, slalom—and bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton. Yes to Nordic skiing (except skiathlon), because pharmacists need something to do during the winter. Yes to biathlon, because sports are war, and how better to drive home the point than by giving the competitors rifles?
Yes to ski jumping, because it’s ballsy, and because the Japanese need a reason to tune in. Yes to long-track speed skating, because Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair and Johann Olav Koss.
That’s my take on the Games until 2016. See you in Rio! I’ll be the one in the golden mankini.
Roberto De Vido is a corporate communications strategist who lives in a small fishing and farming village in Miura Hanto. He was once a reasonably competitive runner, but old age and injuries ended all that years ago. He now runs mainly in order to fit into his clothes.
Image: Benson Kua/Flickr