Sunday, February 9, 2014

Let the Games Begin

I freely confess to being a huge Olympics junkie.  I know, the Games have gone far from their roots, they are overly commercialized and politicized but I can't help it.  My love of history, sports, trivia and schmaltz all collide at the Olympics.

I watched the opening ceremonies of the Winter Games on my own "tape delay" which means I DVR'd NBC's tape delay and watched it the next morning.  This was partly due to my daughter's preference to watch this week's episode of Under the Gunn (Clearly she is unaware of the awesome fashion fails available at the Opening Ceremonies). It was even more my desire to skip the 2 hours of commercials that would be scattered thru the 4 hours of broadcast.

I sort of skimmed through the early portion, the young lady acrobat was impressive, the floating islands bizarre, the inflatable history of
Russia left me speechless.

The head of the IOC told the world that the Olympics were about inclusion and not raising walls between people, as polite a way of dissing Russia for some of what has been going on during the run up as can be imagined.

  Basically there are 2 things I most want to see at any Olympics--the lighting of the torch, and the parade of the nations.

I love the parade. The first team to enter is always the Greeks. They have been at every Summer Olympics and all but one Winter Games. They may not always medal, but hey it was their idea, they re not going to miss it, and they get to come in first.  The rest of the Olympics will be taken up with the privileged few who will contend for medals, the parade is the only chance we get to see speed skaters from Hong Kong and skiers from Africa. Little countries like Andorra and Bermuda get their due. (The sole Bermudan athlete gets props for wearing Bermuda shorts, even though the event took place in a gigantic hockey rink) Most of these athletes have no chance of medaling. They are there to be part of the big party, to represent their countries, to perhaps achieve a personal best.  It was said of  Kyrgyzstan's sole representative, a skier, that if he finished in the top 50 it would be a huge accomplishment. No doubt his country will be thrilled too, a reminder to us jaded Americans who think that anyone who doesn't medal is a failure.

Without a doubt the best sight though, are the tiny delegations of only a few members. Jamaica once again has a bobsled team. Sometimes the only athlete is carrying the flag. We have never heard of most of them, but in their own countries they are heroes. They are there and that's what its all about.

Its also a reminder that small countries can be great powers in winter sports. Lichtenstein has 9 medals, all in skiing. All of South America is still trying to win one Winter Olympic medal. Norway has 50 more gold medals than the next closest county.

It is a awesome sight to see the US team enter the stadium, even if the team uniforms look like tailored afghans. Seeing an injured athlete on crutches, unable to compete but unwilling to miss the ceremony at least is a prideful moment. (Another prideful moment for me is to see the Americans who compete for other countries, because they or their parents were born in those nations. Some Xenophobes don't like to see "our people" competing for other countries, but to me its just a little reminder of the many cultures whose achievements are a part of this country.)

That's not to say there weren't a few enjoyable glitches. The malfunctioning Olympic ring was so iconic it was on tshirts the next day. One of the final torchbearers, a well known gymnast is also known in the gossip columns to be Vladimir Putin's very good friend. After all the concern about anti gay laws, and the Sochi mayor's claims his city had no gay people, the Russian Olympic team entered to the song that "Not Gonna Get Us" mixed with (wait for it) "We Will Rock You" by Queen. (Somewhere Freddie Mercury is laughing.) The bizarre Russian Bear mascot will replace Teddy Ruxpin in the nightmares of many. Despite the round up and execution of stray dogs, at least one snuck into the stadium and onto many Twitter feeds. 

The climax is of course the lighting of the torch.  The classicist in me loves it that original torch is lit for each Olympics on Mount Olympus and then conveyed by a relay of torchbearers to the host country.  In 2002  the Salt Lake City torch relay come through our town, and I took the kids to see it. For many people its the closest they will ever come to an Olympic event.  It is the most potent reminder that there is still an ideal at the heart of it all, for all the misuse of that ideal for selfish purposes. It is highly unlikely that anyone will soon surpass either the poignancy of Muhammad Ali lighting the torch in Atlanta, or the spectacle of the Spanish Olympian lighting it with a flaming arrow in Barcelona, so they wisely didn't try   Fine Russian Olympians carried it in, and lit the torch, and the games were on again.

     So for all the drama and off screen maneuvering, its now time for athletes to do what athletes do. Hopefully there will be no major incidents or catastrophes during these Games. (I am old enough to remember the Munich Games in 1972, as well as the bombing at Atlanta in 1996, so I know Olympic catastrophes.)

For the next two weeks, let it be about them.

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