Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Don't knock the Olympics

My favorite sports commentator Frank Deford gave an anti-Olympic diatribe this morning on his weekly NPR sports commentary. (He also writes for Sports Illustrated).

I have to concede he made some good points: NBC’s coverage is often mediocre to dreadful. Who’s the woman figure skating commentator who always has some negative, nit-picky thing to say? Deford made a point of discussing how the Olympics have just become a brand, like Nike. The Olympic flame is like the Nike swoosh, he said.

Hold on. That is being way too cynical. My favorite sports commentator has succumbed to the disease of our times: skeptical cynicism.

After working on an Olympics I am well aware of the corporate and commercial side of the games. There is no denying that aspect of our world has crept in. But I am enough of an idealist and I am still wide eyed and na├»ve enough to believe in the Olympic spirit. What you don’t see on TV is the vast majority of the Olympic athletes whose stories are just as compelling as the stories of the few stars that get profiled and who get all of the sponsors. I don’t begrudge these stars for either of those things. It’s just that there are so many stories that are just as compelling. The guy who comes in two or three seconds behind the leader in skeleton, luge, or bobsled, and is in anywhere from fourth to tenth place or worse--we rarely hear about him. Yet he is just seconds away from the top man in his sport.

Celebrate the gold medalists, definitely, but also celebrate those who strive for excellence and get so close. In many cases getting tenth place is after rounds of qualifying and then beating dozens of other competitors once you finally make it to the games. That’s not so bad. I’ve know a few Olympians personally (I met dozens but can’t say I know them). Those I know truly are some of the most focused and dedicated people I’ve come across.

The huge to-do that was made when the American woman did her little stunt and gave up the gold in snowboarding was just too much. She didn’t dishonor the country, she just fell and got silver. Is that so bad? Gold would have been better, but her mistake is her problem, not a sports catastrophe. NBC ran a commentary about this the night it happened saying how it was unprecedented in sports history. With that kind of hyperbole it is no wonder people like Deford get a little disgusted. Focus on the coverage, not the Olympics themselves. The Olympics are so much more than the media window we get to watch them through.

The Olympic spirit is real. When the Olympics come to town a whole city and region is transformed for a few magical weeks. Athletes put themselves in the arena and give it their best shot. Tens of thousands of volunteers help make it all happen. It is an event like no other.

Yes it has weaknesses, but the strength of the Olympics and the Olympic spirit is strong and alive.

Assistant Venue Transportation Manager
Athlete Transportation System
Salt Lake Olympic Village

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