When the Winter Olympics were last held in Canada (1988, Calgary), I cared about them. At that stage I was a religious watcher of all things sport – and that included Saturday’s Wide World of Sports, which also showed highlights from the World Cup Alpine events, the ski jumping competitions and also major figure skating events.
And as someone who always needs to barrack for someone in any sport, I had my favourites – in Downhill it was Purmin Zurbriggen, in the Ski Jump it was Matti Nyukanen. I didn’t really have a favourite in the figure skating, but I had the terminology down pat – double axels, triple lutzes and all that. Thus when the Calgary Olympics started I was pretty excited. When Zurbriggen and Nykenen won Gold I was ecstatic. I remember seeing Dan Jansen (favourite for the 500m speed skating) fall on a corner, and saw his face of utter despair, knowing that earlier that day his sister had died of leukaemia. I knew the big competition between “the two Brians” in the men’s figure skating, and the rivalry of Katarina Witt and Debi Thomas in the women’s event as they both did routines to the music from Carmen. I think I even had a favourite luger (Georg Hackl).
Today the Vancouver Winter Olympics begin and I know nobody. Oh sure I know Torah Bright and Dale Begg-Smith. And I’ll hope they win their events. But alpine skiers? Ski Jumpers? Figure skaters? Speed Skaters? Nup –couldn’t name one. Back then I knew enough about the sport to decide not to like Alberta Tomba (though by the 1992 I was on his side). Even in 1998 I knew of Hermann Maier the great alpine skier from Austria. In 2002 I knew of Michelle Kwan the American figure skater. But somewhere in the past 8 years I lost interest.
Where did the interest go? It probably had a bit to do with the fact that far too many of Winter Olympic events are subjectively judged – ski jumping, all the freestyle events and of course the figure skating. I hate sports with judges. I don’t get why the mogols needs judging, nor how the whole damn thing works: so it’s not enough to be fast you have to do jumps that get judged on the way down? So I guess you have to decide between doing a great jump that will slow you down or a fast run… why? Just get down the damn hill and stop the clock! Same for the ski jumping? Can you imagine the long jump having marks for style? Just jump as far as you bloody well can, and give the Gold to whoever jumps the furthest. It ain’t hard, why complicate it with judges?
And all the terminology that goes with the freestyle events just annoys me – take the half-pipe – an event brought in just to cash in on the success of the Winter X Games – Torah Bright is hoping to do a “double cork 900'' (900 because it involved 2 1/2 spins, ie 900 degrees). Sounds great; it also sounds like something made up by the Gatorade marketing department.
And then there are the events that do use a stopwatch and no judges. The problem with these is that (except for the short track skating) they are all time-trails. One guy goes down the hill, then the next guy, then the next guy; or two guys go around the ice skating track, then another two, then another two. Now sure there is some suspense etc. But could you imagine the 1500m at the Olympics being run that way?
The great thing about athletic races is you are actually not racing the clock: you are racing against your competitors. A race can be slow purely because the field are trying to make life harder for runners without a strong kick finish; conversely someone may take the race out fast to blunt the kick of others. Races require strategy. Downhill events just require you get down the hill as fast as you can (which is good, but does lack something). The cross country skiing on the other hand does have competitors going against each other, but so slow is the event that watching it is like watching a Race Walking event.
Now yes I’m being a grumpy old cuss. I am also being rather hypocritical, because I know I’ll watch a stack of events, and I’ll be there saying, wow she really nailed that triple double axel rotator cuff.
And when the two weeks are over, I’ll look at my watch and wonder when the footy starts.