Every four years, something happens that really gets the attention of everyone in America. This phenomenon is on everyone’s mind and on everyone’s television. It takes over the news and everyday conversation, and becomes simply impossible to escape. I am not talking about the U. S. Presidential election, bad as that pairing of candidates is this year. I am, instead, talking about the Olympics.
You all know by now that my likes and dislikes can be a little . . . uh . . . let’s go with unusual. But can I really be the only one who can’t wait for the Olympics to be over?
I realize that I am far out of the mainstream on this. At least one of my children thinks (even if he will not say) that I am either crazy, or at least un-American. I have no response but to plead that the Olympics are my personal green eggs and ham – I do not like them, Sam-I-Am.
I guess I shouldn’t say that I don’t like the Olympics – let’s just say that they hold no interest for me. Which is strange, because so many odd and unusual things grab my attention and interest every day. Should contestants from around the world come together to compete in an antique steam engine pulling contest, a Gregorian chant sing-off or a scientific competition to formulate a Scotch whiskey that can be fermented somewhere outside of Scotland, I would be all eyes and ears, ready to talk the topic to death at every water cooler in my path. But the Olympics? Not so much.
What, exactly, is my problem with the Big O? And a reasonable question it is. Let’s start with this: I realize that there is something positive in the ideal of athletes from countries all over the world leaving their differences at home and coming together to showcase the best in good clean sportsmanship. But from what I keep reading, there is not so much of that in play this (or any) year. There are political shenanigans, unfair advantages or disadvantages, and outright doping and cheating. I already have easy year-round access to these things in most college and professional sports, so the Olympics doesn’t really bring a dish to this buffet.
Another answer I could give goes something like this. Of the long list of sports which make up the Olympic games, I pretty much never watch (let alone participate) in any of them, so why is it any different when they are all played in one place and at one time? I have no idea what makes a good fencer or a bad one, but isn’t it so much more entertaining when Errol Flynn does it on a classic movie on TCM? Flynn did it in Technicolor and in situations far more interesting than what we can watch live in Rio. Perhaps if fencers went up against one another on the deck of a sailing ship, occasionally swinging from the rigging?
Some sports, like basketball and soccer (which the rest of the world identifies as football) are available to me at well above saturation level for much of the year. Others, like swimming and diving are things that I could have watched if any of my children had taken them up as kids, but which I thankfully avoided. An older friend once wisely cautioned me against getting my children into any athletic activity that involves something called a “meet”. A Meet, he explained, is something that contains about fifteen minutes of your kid’s actual activity, which the organizers manage to squeeze into an entire day for the parent-spectator.
I realize that I am sounding more than a little curmudgeonly about the whole thing, but let’s just look at an example – like, say, the Canoe Slalom. I know nothing about canoe slaloming. And this despite earning my canoeing merit badge during my Boy Scouting days. I know no competitive canoeists and have no idea what the rules might be. If I were to change my mind and watch the pageantry and excitement of slaloming canoes, and if I were to start to take an interest in competitive canoe slaloming, the event would suddenly conclude. And then where could I go to tune into some more canoe slalom competitions next week? Precisely nowhere. If this is not a fatal dead end for a hopeful sports fan, I don’t know what is, so isn’t it better to just skip the entire affair?
Some of these sports seem not completely unlike that breed of television cooking shows where contestants have thirty minutes to make a delicious meal out of puffer fish, endives and Kraft Caramels. It can be mildly interesting to watch, even if we would never care to taste the result. Perhaps if those playing Rugby Sevens or Field Hockey had to replace the equipment used in the game with some mystery object chosen at the last moment by the IOC, we might be left with something of interest to the non-fan. “Teams, instead of a ball for the game, you will be playing with – – – this bowl of live goldfish. Break it or lose any of the fish and you will be going home today.” I might watch that.
I will admit that I do find it interesting that one of the swimmers this year might beat a 2,000 year old record for most medals won. But strangely, I find myself rooting for Leonidas of Rhodes. When a guy has held a record since 152 B.C., it doesn’t seem right to take it away now, especially since no modern athlete has bested him at the hoplite, whatever that might be. When the only enthusiasm that I can muster for the Olympics of 2016 comes from Olympic trivia from two millennia ago, then perhaps it is best if I just find something else to do for the next few days.
Even if I stay on the sidelines, I will still have to put up with the videos of Rio muggings that keep turning up on social media. I am a little surprised that nobody has thought about adding this to the official schedule. Surely with some training and practice, a skilled team of amateur tourists could give teams of Brazilian delinquents a run for their money. Literally. Maybe this could make it onto the schedule for 2020. Maybe they could call it the hoplite.