Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Monday, February 13, 2006

Should we even care about the Olympics?

I'm sitting at my computer, which is in a different room of the house from any of my televisions. So by definition, I must not be paying any attention to the Olympics. I used to look forward to these every four years, and even into the stretch when they became essentially every two years. But I haven't watched a minute of it yet, and I can't say I plan to give it more than a cursory glance. Why? Here are five reasons:

Commercials -- To me, the moment the Olympic broadcasts "jumped the shark" came in 1988, when the United States was playing hockey (against whom, I can't remember) and because of television commercials, viewers missed at least two goals by the Stars and Stripes. At one point, Jim McKay came on and "educated" viewers that while the Olympics were important, it was also important that ABC pay homage to the advertisers whose money were paying for the cost of broadcasting the games. One of the network suits must have put McKay up to it, since there was no way that the voice of the Olympics would have gone there on his own. But ever since then, I've been reminded of how much broadcast rights to the Games cost, and how we'll always be a slave to the companies who fund it.

24-Hour News -- And since the Games are too plodding to watch, why not just cut to the chase? Thanks to the Internet and 24-hour news channels, one need not wait until prime time to find out who won the medals -- at least when the Olympics are being held outside the U.S. time zones. At noon on Saturday, I knew that Chad Hedrick had captured the first U.S. gold medal. Which was great because we had lots of errands to run that day, so there was no point in hurrying home to watch Hedrick's 5,000-meter performance on tape. And with TiVo, you can wait even longer to watch the events, whenever it's convenient. The suspense of watching an event live is gone. For that matter, the suspense of watching an event on tape is gone -- the U.S. beat the Russians in 1980, in a game that was shown tape-delayed, but outside of the folks in Lake Placid and maybe some others who had heard by phone, no one knew that had pulled the greatest upset in hockey history.

Doping -- The other "jump the shark" moment also came in 1988, when Ben Johnson won the 100-meter gold medal with an implausible 9.79-second time. Implausible, and it turned out, invalid as well. Johnson wasn't the first or the last Olympian to use illegal drugs or other internationally banned substances. But like Nixon in Watergate, he was the first on his level to get caught, and we've developed a natural suspicion of great athletes when they turn in incredible performances. Baseball has gone through the same scrutiny in recent years, especially because it hasn't until recently developed a drug-testing policy nearly as strict as that of the Olympics. But baseball has the advantage of being a thinking person's sport as well -- a crafty player can play as important a role as a physically gifted one. Many of the Olympics' sports are decided on pure power or speed, variables that performance-enhancing substances are bound to improve. In such cases, the drug test might be the toughest opponent an athlete faces.

Politics -- The majority of my Olympic watching has occurred since 1980, when President Carter led a boycott of the Moscow Games (the Eastern Bloc countries reciprocated four years later). While the Olympics should be above politics, they still have lost a bit of their character as the political situations in the world have changed. Go back to the 1980 hockey victory -- what made it special? Well, the whole amateur thing was one huge factor and will be covered in the next item. But the team gave the United States a shot of morale that if it could avoid being bullied on the ice, maybe it could avoid the same fate in the world as well. Now times have changed, and the United States is the most powerful nation (for better or worse; mostly better in my opinion) and doesn't have that lovable underdog story it once did. Of course we should win the most medals -- we have exceptional training facilities, sports medicine technology, sponsorship opportunities, and so much more. Good for us, but bad for the allure of the Games.

Professionalism -- This is the most obvious change. Mike Eruzione won a gold medal in the last hockey game he ever played for keeps. The Olympics made him a star. Too many Olympic athletes these days are already stars when they get to the Games. The "Dream Team" was a great concept, since the best basketball players in the country bought into it and made it what was supposed to be: a once-in-a-lifetime event. But since professionals were allowed to play the major team sports, a group with that degree of grace, likability and talent hasn't been seen again in Olympic basketball or in hockey (maybe Team Canada in 2002). Tennis is just another Olympic sport that some professionals attend and others don't, and if anything takes away from the lure of the Grand Slam events every four years. Beyond that, the likes of Bode Miller and Michelle Kwan clean up on endorsements. Why is it that the biggest story of the Games so far has been that of an athlete -- Kwan -- who WON'T compete? Because she's the star we all know. It would be nice if we could learn about some of the other folks, whose stories we haven't heard again and again.



Anonymous Mike B said...


9:45 AM  

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