Since I can remember the Olympics, and for the detail oriented among you that would be Summer Games, Montreal, 1976 (a.k.a. Nadia) I have been a superfan. Like millions of other girls I took up gymnastics soon after that summer, and basically was hooked on the idea of this international-kumbaya-event from there forward. As a young person, I was not attuned to the politics, though certainly a target for the only time when rabid nationalism seemed to escape the critique it rightfully earned through the latter half of the 20th century. I was so excited for the next Olympics, you can imagine my 9-year-old rage that we would not go to Moscow.
And suddenly, I was attuned to the politics. So, 1980 was a wash for me… I would focus on 1984. [Keep in mind at this time I still harbored hopes of standing on a podium under the stars and stripes looking the perfect combination of pride, humility, emotion, amazement, gratitude, and righteousness. I had ignored the obvious that at eleven I was already six inches taller than every competitor in my favorite sport and so it was unlikely that would be my go to game.] When 1984 came around – to L.A. no less – I was psyched and attended a ton of events. Way more than any of the Eastern Block nations did. So, we won a bunch of stuff, but really, if you are not competing against the best of the best, can you say you are the best? [Trick question as foreshadowing.]
One thing I loved about the idea of the Olympics was that it was the theater of the “amateur”. This was where “pure” sport would take place before people had team and sponsorship allegiances, it was all about representing
the motherland your country. Which is a great theory. Particularly if you hail from a rabidly nationalist country or a one where the state will ensure that you receive top training (as long as you sign away your life and win-wiN-wIN). Long a pay-to-play nation (way before we admitted it), the USA suddenly started getting a little grumpy about this rule a cried “UNFAIR!” No fair that these other countries were kicking our ass. What’s that? Um, hell-to-the-NO, we will not endorse government programs that build sports dynasties, but that is not the point.
Cue 1988. Seoul. See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya. The Soviet Union wins gold in Men’s Basketball. Forget that they sort of cleaned up across the board… it is a very interesting medal count to look at all these post-Berlin Wall/perestroika years later. Anyhow, we were all kinds of hurt about this and suddenly realized that tons of athletes from the American pro-ranks as well as the best college programs in their sports, were taking their top-notch training and experience back to their home countries and participating as amateurs because they were not pros in their own countries. Huh. You don’t say.
Hello Bar-TH-elona. 1992. The DREAM TEAM. And all those other athletes, too. We got our pro’s in the game, we welcomed every kind of corporate sponsorship and jumped across the pond. We basically called this one for ourselves, because you know, I mean, “Unified Team”? Really? Y’all didn’t even like each other.
So the pro’s were in. Did I mind this? NO. Because at the end of the day (or the summer as it were) what I want to see in the Olympics is the BEST people in the game. In EVERY game. That is how sports should be – head to head until you get down that final, defining moment.
Which brings me to Beijing 2008. [No disrespect to Hotlanta (’96) or Sydney (’00), but a few doping issues and one bombing aside, everyone sort of sailed through those games (and of course, the USA topped the medal counts both times…] My point is, what do I want to see? [more foreshadowing here with the active verb SEE.] I want to see:
Further, I do not want to see strategy evolve to the point of throwing matches to get the gold (I’m talkin’ to YOU China.) But I do want to see the best of the best within the scope of the rules. So, when China puts a female gymnast out there who is CLEARLY under the allowable age limit, and their general response following the stonewall denial is, “Who cares that she is younger, she beat the older girls.” Well, yes. Yes she did. Because her sport is one in which puberty, and general physical maturity is a gigantic handicap. Therefore, to let her in is changing the game. Yes, like letting the NBA pro players in, but the difference was, ALL the pro’s were eligible, not just the ones incidentally from the home country.
But, to be fair, at least I got to SEE the majority of competitions in the ’08 games.
Super excited to see what London would pull off for 2012, I tuned in with bated breath. I had just watched the entire Tour de France and the coverage had been fantastic: intelligent, witty when it was appropriate, complete, and even *gasp* UNINTERRUPTED at the key points.
That is pretty much the complete opposite of what I have experienced since the opening ceremony of this Olympic Games.
I do not want to see what NBC thinks I want to see, or more insultingly, what I should see. Like, based on ratings or clothing. Or politics. [Though with Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera I almost wished they had just cut the whole thing… can you imagine Lauer calling something we did “creepy”?] If you want the blow-by-blow of our coverage, get a vomit bag and read this. In spite of the fact that everyone thinks the US coverage of the games is indefensibly bad, NBC sports spokesman Greg Hughes says: “Our program is tailored for the U.S. television audience.”
Never a huge flag-waver, or from particularly flag-waving stock, I have never thought myself un-American, but this “tailoring” doesn’t suit any part of why I watch the Olympics. Gawker has said it best with their headline: Every Single Person in America is Pissed at NBC’s Olympic Coverage, so I need not be redundant. But seriously, this is a fail of olympian proportions.
The primetime coverage has just become insulting. Not to mention that the “personal interest” shit is cutting actual coverage time and they drag it out until MIDNIGHT even though anyone with a smart phone already knows the results and is tuning is to SEE the events. I haven’t been able to stay awake for one of the nights.
The reporters have seemed intent on making our own athletes feel shitty: asking Ryan Lochte how bad he feels about his performance after not medaling, commenting that Phelps lack of serious training is keeping him down, hunting down Jordan Weiber at the exact moment it is clear she is out of the women’s all-around competition [based on a completely useless rule that exempts us from seeing the best of the best so that some countries don’t feel bad or something…] to ask her how she feels about her BFF and a long time rival advancing instead of her. HOW DO YOU THINK SHE FEELS?
On top of this, there is much interesting cultural innuendo, latent and blatant racism and sexism cropping up in the Olympics – probably not a new phenomenon, I will grant you, I am aware of Mexico ’68, Berlin ’36, Munich ’72… But damn, can’t a girl hope that kind of crap would eventually (at least in primetime) be discouraged?
First, we got this whole thing about Gabby Douglas. Even though she’s the top qualifier, she continues to get less than second-rate coverage – even when NBC is trying to fake a close competition. And one of the top issues people have been on her case about? Her hair. I shit you not. And this is supposed to be a sport we see lots of because we’re supposed to win it AND there are not a lot of clothes. [British weightlifter Zoe Smith has also taken a lot of shit about not looking lady-like enough… but she deftly told the naysayers to sod off here.]
In the same vein, in the men’s platform synchro diving the commentators were discussing all the pairs by name (even trying to say the Chinese names, though pronouncing Cao as Tsiao because apparently getting phonetic assistance is too sophisticated for NBC) and every time the eventual silver medalist Mexican divers (whose *very complicated* names are GARCIA and SANCHEZ) came up the announcer would say, “And here are the Mexicans.” Not ‘the Mexican divers’ or ‘the Mexican team’ – “THE MEXICANS” – it was hideous.
Now, we have a new scandal surrounding badminton – don’t laugh, millions of folks take this sport super seriously not superciliously – and it is getting all sorts of coverage because it gets at those pesky Chinese who keep winning more medals than us [somebody better call the WAAHHHHHH-mbulance!] Turns out a bunch of Asian teams have been throwing matches to get more advantageous pairings in the finals. The best part of the story is that is was the crowd who realized the players were purposely flubbing it. (Whoa, I thought I was a superfan….) The most surprising part for me was not the cheating, but the Chinese response. The editor of hyper-nationalist Chinese newspaper Global Times, published this comment on the disgrace: “Competition is fierce in Asian societies; people attach great importance to results while ignoring the process. How pathetic!”
I am not sure, but he might have just uncovered something pretty significant right there.
Of course, I am going to continue watching as much of the games as I can. I cannot help myself, I love it. And I will cheer for Phelps to win more medals because, shit Holmes, that is awesome.
I will cheer for Lochte because he is a stud and I like that he gives crap interviews and doesn’t care, isn’t that why everyone watches the swimming? FOR THE INTERVIEWS?
I will keep watching the diving because (thank you fan of George Takei):
I will watch the basketball because Kobe is a dipshit, (excellent article detailing said dipshittiness here):
I will watch whatever I can find through the obfuscation that is NBC and supplement it with Twitter, live streaming, and other un-American means. I will try to ignore the offensive corporate overtones. And I will wave my flag and be proud of how at the very least our American athletes seem to represent our country with a kind of dignity that a lot more people would do well to strive for. As the oh-so-epic Carl Lewis said, some folks just should not leave the country. And in the end, I hope we do out-medal China simply because it will make them so completely pissed off. For these few weeks, regardless of whatever else it is to be American, it is heaps of fun.
Let’s have it Team USA!“The Brit team looked like a bunch of gangsters from a gay drama. Your mob looked the same as always. Chiseled and beautiful and winninglike.” D. McCord, Essex