Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Olympics

I have a Summer Olympics challenge for you.  Start by skipping tomorrow’s opening ceremonies, that interminable parade of people you don’t know from countries you can’t find on a map, all wearing poorly made clothing from China to placate their corporate masters at Nike, Reebok and Adidas.  When competition begins, watch the TV/Internet coverage but with the sound off or with commentary in a language you don’t understand.  See how much you can take.  See whether the competition is enough to hold your attention without the “compelling human drama” blanket that the announcers will try to wrap around almost every athlete.  I’ll bet you don’t last long.

How did it come to this?  Why can’t we just watch a goddamned sporting event without the winner crying his eyes out and dedicating his performance to his dead twin brother, his cancer-stricken sister and the illiterate club-footed coach of his JV team?  It would be one thing, I suppose, if sports journalists applied their maudlin filters to synchronized swimming, trampoline and a few other competitions so mind-numbingly dull that only the athlete profiles could make them briefly watchable.  But it’s everywhere.  Did any of these athletes get to London on the merits of their sporting prowess alone, or did they all have to pull the plug on Grandma’s ventilator before they got on the plane?

On vacation in Europe as a 13 year old, I wandered away from the family campsite one evening to watch a local tennis match.  The quality of play was excellent and much appreciated by a large group of spectators.  After one particularly well-played point, a man standing next to me smiled and nodded to indicate his approval.  I did the same.  Without knowing each other’s language that was all we could do but that was enough.  The game was enough.  It didn’t need embellishment.

As a cycling fan I am somewhat interested in the Olympic races, and I hope I can enjoy them with or without commentary.  For the 2008 Olympic men’s road race there was no TV coverage so I watched an Internet stream.  It had no commentary, just the ambient sounds of the road.  Professional riders who should have been familiar to me were rendered almost unidentifiable without their trade team jerseys.  Hopefully this year’s coverage will include enough on-screen graphics to allow me to identify the riders, to know where they are on the course, to know the distance remaining and to know the time gaps.  That would be enough.  What I expressly do not want is some sepia-toned, cloying story of Taylor Phinney’s devotion to his father Davis, the former pro with Parkinson’s disease, or yet another retelling of track cycling star Dotsie Bausch and her struggles with anorexia and drug addiction.  It has all been done.  Taylor and Dotsie and all of the other Olympians don’t owe you anything more than to perform at the best of their ability and to represent their countries with dignity.  If you need cheaply conjured sentimentality and soap opera storylines, maybe professional wrestling is more your speed.

Let the Games begin.  But let them stand on their own merits.

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