My Attempt At Boycotting The Winter Olympics
I vowed I wasn’t going to watch the Winter Olympics. I announced to the world—well, to my wife who was the only one listening—I wanted no part of this tattered shell of what was once the “Olympic ideal.” It wasn’t just the gross spectacle of the opening ceremonies, where Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping cemented their bromance by sharing a box in the near-empty stadium, presiding over the peaceful gathering of nations in the hallowed name of sport. Meanwhile, Russian troops gathered on the border of the Ukraine, preparing to go to war.
Irony doesn’t even begin to cover that raised middle finger to the world. It simply represents what the Games have become: a political football sold to the highest bidder, no matter who they are; rife with cheating and corruption and televised to within an inch of our lives by NBC, who have paid billions to do this every two years, whether we’re in the midst of a world-wide pandemic or not. So I decided I wasn’t going to support it. Didn’t care who won or lost. And since these were the Winter Games, there was the extra added attraction of being completely unaware of 90% of the sports to begin with.
Yes, I know about skiing, hockey and figure skating. I have a vague idea of what a “luge” is, though I’m still not sure why it exists. I learned that curling is played with brooms and a large rock. And that the Biathlon is a skill combination requiring cross-country skiing and shooting a rifle. After that, I’m pretty much at a loss to understand the difference between half-pipes, slope styles and big airs (editor’s note: they’re all snowboarding events).
Still Somehow Glued To The TV
And yet… and yet… with all my curmudgeonly hostility toward the event itself, I can’t help being drawn in by the athletes—their skills, their perseverance, but most of all their stories. Despite all my vows of abstinence, I have found myself glued to the TV every night, fervently giving a damn whether or not Nathan Chen wins the men’s figure skating competition (he did); sharing the angst of Michaela Schiffrin’s alpine skiing disasters; cheering on the last hurrah of Shaun White and his graceful, tearful passing of the torch; learning who Erin Jackson and Kailee Humphries are; and even experiencing a good old doping scandal, brought to us by the Russians who were banned from the 2022 Games for cheating, yet somehow are still allowed to field a team called “The Russian Olympic Committee.” You really can’t make this stuff up.
NBC And The Winter Olympics
Part of the credit must go to NBC, which has done a mostly stellar job of broadcasting these games, though I wish they would stop shining the brightest light on the plucky American skier who finished 14th in the cross-country, while ignoring the poor Norwegian or Swede who actually won the event. I get it. They’re broadcasting to an American audience. But a little lightening up on the rampant homerism would go a long way.
Working under the strict pandemic constraints imposed by China—which placed a limit on who could actually attend the various events—NBC has had to operate with a skeleton crew in China, with many of its commentators and behind-the-scenes crew having to do their work from the network studios in Connecticutt. It felt a little jarring at first. Almost as if they were reviewing a movie as it was actually playing. But after a while, we got into the rhythm of it.
Broadcasting Support From Family And Friends
Another new wrinkle, born out of necessity, was NBC installing cameras in dozens of venues around the world to broadcast all the cheers and tears from families and friends to the athlete before and after their competitions. I particularly loved Kris Jackson’s father’s laconic response to his daughter winning the 500-meter speed skating event, the first African-American woman ever to do so.
“Nice job,” was all he said. But the depth of feeling in those simple words and the responding emotions on the other end spoke volumes.
Mike Tirico And Johnny Weir
Mike Tirico, taking over the hosting duties Bob Costas handled so well for many Olympic years, has done an excellent job of setting the stage. And it also helps that, with the time difference, we’re watching most of the events live rather than having to shield ourselves from results that have already happened. And, before I forget, a huge shout-out to Johnny Weir for simply being his own, entertaining self—not to mention the only person on earth who has ever been able to explain ice dancing to me.
So yes, I will continue to watch the Winter Olympics. When the Summer Olympics return to Paris in 2024, I will be among the crowd. The politics are what they are and unlikely to change any time soon. But the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat is still writ large on the Olympic stage. As is our investment in the young men and women who put it all on the line for their shot at glory and our entertainment.