Saturday, February 18, 2006

Olympic proportions

I am a huge fan of the Olympics. I suppose this is a little bit odd, since I don't watch much in the way of sport. Come Olympic time, I am glued to the television, summer or winter. For the last several years, my husband has watched some of it with me. I tended to watch on basic network television, and so had to put up with the way it was presented.

Presented? But it's a sporting event?

Not in the US, oh no. It's a drama. _Anything_ the US networks can do to exploit a drama they will do. Profiles of the athletes "... she was born to a subsistence farmer in Mississippi, and had to work nights as a janitor in the local meat packing plant to finance her training ...", rivalries between the athletes "... he put a depilatory in his competitor's body wash in order to remove the body hair early in the swimming training ...", family troubles "... her father sent her away to ski camp at the age of 3 1/2 for 6 months, then punished her for coming in 2nd overall, even though the average age of the others was 7. She estranged herself from her father at age 10 ...", trouble with coaches, the venue, past events, if a drama could be made out of it, it was.

What's worse is that only the events that US athletes compete in (and have a ghost of a chance of getting in the top ten in) are covered. So all this time spent on these profiles means that you don't get to see many events at all. My husband had such trouble watching this schlock that I would do my best to record what I could so we could fast forward to the actual event.

What a pleasure it has been, watching in the UK! When they interview the athletes, they talk about the sport, and that athlete's relationship to the sport. If any other details are given about the athlete, they are comments in passing "... he's going to celebrate his medal win by watching his girlfriend compete tomorrow in the women's downhill ..." or "... when she's not playing hockey, she's working her dairy farm in the Cotswolds ...", things like that. Of course, the United Kingdom (called Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the Olympics) doesn't have too many athletes who make it in the top ten. I mean, let's face it, it's a small population on land that has no serious mountains nor iced over lakes or rivers. So winter Olympics are not really the UK's forte.

So they get excited about everyone who puts in a good performance. And should a Briton make the top ten, well, that's cause for real celebration. It's great to hear the excitement in the commentator's voices upon anyone's good showing. You should have heard their excitement when a Briton got 14th in a skiing event. And their silver medal in women's bobskeleton? It was announced and rehashed over and over again - first UK medal of these Olympics, promising young competitor, three different interviews on how it felt for her (all short, by the way). All of her home county was celebrating.

It's also funny to hear the commentators remarks on the other nation's personalities. Particularly in downhill skiing, the US coaches (one in specific, I think) would really shout and whoop it up just before a US skier left the gates. The UK commentator indelicately once labeled the US coaches "loudmouth". He hasn't repeated that comment since, by the way - I imagine he was spoken to. I remarked to Richard that, after all, how can you get psyched up to someone saying "Good luck, mate" and shaking your hand? But that, I expect, is the rest of the world's impression. Who knows what the Austrians are saying ...

Actually when the Frenchman won the men's downhill, they played the French commentary. The UK commentators were so excited, and they figured the French commentators would be out of their minds. They were. It was fun to hear.

It's also nice this year to have 2 home countries to root for, and I always like to root for the little countries "Go Liechtenstein!" "You can do it, Estonia!" "Way to go, Costa Rica!" Mostly I like to see the athletes performing at their best for a great competition. Unfortunately the Olympics tend to bring out everyone's nerves, so folks who win in the World Cup fare less well in the Olympics.

I've also gotten to see sports I never see, like curling, and several of the cross country events. One of the cable channels that comes with the package mum-in-law has shows Olympics 24 hours a day throughout the event, as much live as possible. Otherwise good ole BBC2 shows as much as they can, with the side commentary more educational than anything. For example, they explained curling, figure skating jumps; they showed an athlete's view of the skeleton run, the downhill run, the biathlon shooting targets, etc. I have learned more about some of the sports and their regulations (especially curling, though I'm still not clear on the scoring).

And, having seen the run, I think those skeleton athletes are nuts.

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