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The Olympics: Why You Should Care (The Counter-Argument)

The Olympics: Why You Should Care (The Counter-Argument)

[ February 11, 2010 - 4:00pm ]
Jean-Baptiste Grange
Dek: 
The 2010 Winter Olympics start tomorrow night in Vancouver. We asked two writers—one who loves the spirit of the Games and another who thinks the Olympics are an overrated media blitz—to stage a debate about whether the Olympics even matter anymore. Here's side one of the argument. And now we'll pose the question to you: Do you care about the Winter Olympics?

The 2010 Winter Olympics start tomorrow night in Vancouver. We asked two writers—one who loves the spirit of the Games and another who thinks the Olympics are an overrated media blitz—to stage a debate about whether the Olympics even matter anymore. Here's side one of the argument. And now we'll pose the question to you: Do you care about the Winter Olympics? Let us know in the comments section below.

Don’t get me wrong, I like waving miniature American flags as much as the next guy. But when it comes to the Olympics, I’ve just had my heart broken too many times. Gone are the days when unbound post-world-war patriotism were enough to get by. Gone are the exuberant ’80s, when the Mahre brothers and Tamara McKinney brought victory after victory. The Olympics have transformed from a nation versus nation bout staked on the dreams of amateur athletes to a multibillion dollar, bottom-line, ratings-orientated media blitz with equations much more complex than simply who’s time is better than whose. And it’s getting harder and harder to get excited.

Granted, the Olympic Committee has made steps to catch up with the X Games generation, incorporating snowboarding in 1998 and skiercross for the 2010 Games starting this weekend in Vancouver. But survey kids in the terrain park and I’ll bet more can tell you about Shaun White’s latest video game than they can about his Olympic debut. Indeed, the 2006 Torino Games were the least watched spectacle since the 1988 Games in Calgary, according to Nielsen Media Research. An average of 20.2 million viewers tuned in during primetime of the 17-day affair, a 37 percent decline from 2002, losing out to Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. Sure, tape-delays and online coverage cut into viewership, but the truth is most of our skiers toil in obscurity. Daron Rahlves, perhaps the top speed event skier of the past decade and X Games skiercross champ, has told reporters that gold medals are no guarantee of getting Americans invested in skiing. In 2008, pundits claimed that Michael Phelps’s eight golds would have the U.S. taking to the pool like never before, but months later, news of him pulling of milky white tubes were more visible than his butterfly.

The problem with winter sports lies in a lack of true heroes. I don’t fault Bode Miller for shirking under the pressure of the world’s gaze—indeed, skiing has a long history of counterculture anti-establishmentarianism, and I at least applaud Bode for keeping that alive. But Jäger shots and whiny diatribes on 60 Minutes don’t make kids stay up past their bedtimes to watch races. Our best skiers simply haven’t brought home the hardware in recent Games. America ranks fourth in the medal count for skiing at the Winter Games with 31. Austria (110), Switzerland (53), and France (43) all have more. American skiing needs a Lance Armstrong—an athlete whose grim determination and physical prowess wills victory—but our best hopes are now facing injury (Vonn, who has a bruised shin) and inconsistency (Ted Ligety) while the Austrian machine rolls on.

I hope I’m wrong, and that Vonn or Rahlves or some other unknown American speedster comes out of nowhere to beat the snot out of those Archduke-loving kraut eaters and reignite our passion for this sport. If it happens, I’ll be there, waving my miniature American flag as hard as ever.

Read part two of this debate: The Olympics: Why You Should Care.

For more on our coverage of the Winter Olympics, go to www.skiingmag.com/keyword/olympics-2010.

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