In the shadow of Olympus

Coverage of the Beijing Olympics has a strangely ambivalent feel. On one hand, the media is busy drawing attention to China’s massive pollution problems, human rights violations, and architectural coverups of Beijing’s endearing everyday shabbiness. But the corporations that bring us all these messages, via the corporate-owned news media, are also furiously serving up the Olympic hype 48 hours a day. (NBC is boasting 3600 hours of coverage. To paraphrase Rita Rudner, I don’t even want to do anything that feels good for 3600 hours!)

Yet, all this show isn’t really directed at the networks’ traditional core audience; more like over our heads, at a comfortable global citizenry that many Americans feel less and less that they belong to. It almost feels like being forced to attend the lavish wedding of a bride and groom that you don’t know. (Or worse, the lavish wedding of your ex.)

I don’t remember much sentiment or even hype that the 1980 Lake Placid games would “transform Upstate New York” or even just transform the Adirondacks. Lake Placid had already hosted the Games before, and it was, and would remain, a mountain resort village. But that was before Calgary. I suspect the ’88 Winter Games in that Canadian city did for (or “to”) the winter games what the ’84 Los Angeles games did on the summer side: the Olympics as all-consuming media and pop culture spectacle, to be held only in rich countries. (Certainly, the transformation was complete by 1992 in Albertville.)

Lake Placid might someday co-host the Winter Games again, perhaps in a shared bid with Montreal or some other Canadian city. But that would have to wait for a future where not only would Upstate’s economy be better, but where the Olympic movement had somehow stopped being a “Great Game” or a royal wedding.

2 Replies to “In the shadow of Olympus”

  1. I can’t even really tell what the Olympics are anymore.

    Sports? TV is biased against team sports so we do not see much volleyball, water polo, team handball, the kind of sports you don’t see during the regular sports year. Two other trends are disturbing–the inclusion of so many X Games-type sports (so Americans can inflate their medal totals) and the exploitation of little girls in gymnastics, skating and diving (if you’re a teen, you’re over the hill.)

    After School Special? All the heartwarming stories told with breathless sincerity over stirring theme music make me want to vomit.

    Political gamesmanship? It’s no longer just countries that seek to score brownie points while wearing track suits. Athletes, NGO’s and issue groups are all jockeying for camera time.

    Whacked-out performance art? The opening and closing ceremonies are unwatchable and generally have little or no relation to the host nation’s culture.

  2. X Games! There’s a topic…

    I recall watching some kind of “Winter X Games” years ago on ESPN. One of the “sports” involved coasting down an icy ski run… on a bicycle. Naturally, all of the X sports had their legendary athletes and this one was no exception. The legendary star of this discipline was a young woman who was very petite. For some reason, on this course she could not control her stop at the end of her runs, and she kept crashing into the barrier at the bottom — each rack-up more spectacular than the last. Finally after three runs they caught up with her and she was crying (brave athlete tears of disappointment, not ouch-I-wanna-go-home tears, I presume) and didn’t want to be interviewed. So the X-announcers just went on without her and delivered a very serious-sounding technical analysis of her repeated wipeouts, having to do with her light body weight and the course design…

    And I’m sitting there going, Dude, maybe it’s because she was riding a bicycle down a &$*#*@ ski run???

    I’m not sure what a “sport” is, though. If you boil it down to the absolute essentials, I think the only real sport is probably dodgeball.

    As for Olympic vignettes, I will be rooting for Lopez Lomong, not just because of the Syracuse connection, but because he goes to NAU, which is in Flagstaff, which is where my grandparents used to live (and my aunt used to work at NAU).

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