You don’t have to watch the Olympics very long to understand why they’re the best reality show on television. Jaded sports pundits say the games are boring, but what do they know? The 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy have demonstrated once again why the games enjoy such enduring allure.
My family and I have avidly watched the games every cycle for thirty years, thrilling at victory and agonizing at defeat. There’s something incredibly pure and compelling about athletes giving their all for a chance to reach the international pinnacle of their sport.
The Olympics are a spectacle of pageantry, patriotism, world class talent, desire, discipline, and “heart.” The games are a showcase for athletically gifted individuals whose emotions are as real and as raw as the winter snow. Olympic athletes provide us with incredibly heroic efforts, not just to win the gold or even to honor the homeland, but to fulfill the Olympic spirit, to compete, to leave every ounce of effort on the field of play.
Ice skaters fall, hurt themselves then finish their routines. Downhill skiers forced outside the course by the treacherous nature of the mountain still finish the run. Cross country skiers without the talent to ever win a medal slide to the finish with as much emotion as any gold medalist has ever felt. Teenage athletes excitedly look into cameras and say into microphones whatever is on their minds, totally unaffected, honest—laughter, tears, shouts of utter joy or frustration. How can you not appreciate this unscripted drama?
But despite all the best efforts of the International Olympic Committee to protect the integrity of sport and to affirm sportsmanship, still, the Olympics are comprised of people and people do not always do the right thing. Athletes and coaches are dismissed for doping. Athletes are disqualified for cheating or for some other infraction of the rules of competition. Coaches have been known to improperly award points to athletes from theirs or a favored country. Fans sometimes commit unsportsmanlike acts. These are sad developments, but even these instances offer spectators worldwide a chance once again to celebrate the beauty of fair competition.
Then there are individuals who are a morality play all their own. Before nearly every Olympics at least one athlete is heralded as the world’s greatest in his or her sport. They’re touted by media as “bad boys” or “bad girls” because of their devil-may-care attitudes or rebel-like lifestyle. Then the get to the Olympics and don’t win anything, partly if not largely because they’ve squandered their talent and their opportunity on arrogance. They believed the media hype and thought they didn’t have to sacrifice, only to watch some underdog with arguably less talent take their place on the medal podium.
This year’s poster boy for flippancy might be American downhill skier Bode Miller, who made the cover of Newsweek before the games due in part to earlier athletic achievements and due in part to his “I’ll do it my way” attitude that the media loves so much. He still has a chance at this writing, but so far he is 0 for Olympics, wiping out in three of his five events. Meanwhile, his hard partying lifestyle apparently continues.
On the flip side is American speed skater Joey Cheek, who has donated his $25,000 Gold medal money for the 500 m and his $15,000 Silver medal bonus from the 1000 m to a charity called Right to Play. The money is designated to help Sudanese refugee children in Chad. Cheek is winning accolades on and off the ice for his attitude, humility, and generosity.
But that’s the Olympics, the good and the not so good right alongside the excellent. So despite fawning media and over-hyped people and products, every two years the Olympics still offer us a seat at the greatest of all games. I’ll be watching, I’ll cheer for the USA, and I’ll cheer for the underdog, whoever he or she may be.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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