Watching the Olympics

We had a great time watching the Olympics. I honestly have no memory whatsoever of paying any attention at all to what was going on in Turin four years ago—maybe we were travelling, maybe we just forgot. It was hard to not notice these Olympics here in the UK, given the relationship with Canada—everyone has some family that settled there, it seems, and there are a whole lot of Canadians who live in the UK. And, you know, hope springs eternal in curling. So after the disastrous start, we resolved to just put the Olympics on and leave them there, in support. Not that we’re huge fans. But winter Olympics area always a lot more fun than the summer ones. And then there’s the fact that watching them here in the UK is an outright pleasure.

Why is that? Well, we don’t subscribe to Sky Sports—why give Rupert Murdoch any more of my money than I have to? So that leaves the BBC, which shows them for several hours a day, and good old trusty Eurosport, which shows them more or less non-stop. Now, the BBC has no commercials. Isn’t that great? Let me just repeat that for those wondering if socialism has any upside whatsoever. NO commercials on the Olympics. Imagine. And Eurosport—well, their commercials were about as painless as they could possibly be. Tourism ads for Malaysia and Egypt, and after this winter, boy am I ready to go. That was pretty much it. So we got to see the same Malaysia commercials over and over again, which was soporifically benign.

Then there’s the fact that there are virtually no interviews. Well, there are always a couple on the BBC, usually of any UK winners, which this year there was exactly one of. That was the delightful Amy Williams in the delightfully named skeleton. And some discussion s on the finer points of curling, which in our household was appreciated. Eurosport has the occasional interview, but usually with a past winner of the biathalon or something, which usually meant it was in Russian or Norwegian or something, so it was short, and often translated (barely). So that’s what we got. What we didn’t get were those extended heartwarming biographies of (usually, but not always, American) athletes (and their friends and family) that the US broadcast media seems intent on shoving down everyone’s throats about the current hot teenage snowboard sensation, or another Ohno profile. Not having to watch all that just makes me glow. Did I mention no (or painless) commercials? If anything, however, the BBC and Eurosport announcers and commentators are getting a bit too American—too much shouting. And the second commentator in the US/Canada hockey game gave a really good imitation of Fred Willard. But still, that’s a small price to pay.

And the sports shown are just great. There’s some of the usual hot stuff, figure skating and whatnot. But the focus in on European sports, that is, sports that Europeans across the continent like to do. So there’s little in the way of national heroes (or extended profiles of them). What we generally get, especially on Eurosport, is extended coverage of one event. And Europeans love things like biathalons and cross-country skiing. So we’d get the whole race, no matter how long it was. This is the way to see it. Because you actually do get into the rhythm of the event—things speed up, things slow down, and you have a chance to see when what you’re watching is pure effort, or strategy or the athlete just scoping things out. It’s a revelation on some of these sports. Cross-country skiing is interesting to watch. Who knew?

So it all turns into an extended Zen thing. We sit there, Mrs W knits, I do Sudokus or catch up on the pile of accumulated magazines, and we watch the skiers, or the speed skaters, and occasionally things get exciting with a lot of yelling (especially at the finish of whatever the event is), but generally it’s a pretty restful affair. Of course we get caught up in the drama—there’s always drama. But it’s wonderful to learn that the drama of these things is textured, and to learn something about the nuances of the different ways that people conduct themselves under the stress of competition at this level. With no (or hardly any) commercials.

So I’m looking forward to Russia in four years. Especially the biathalon. And the high points this time around? Well, that was some hockey game, wasn’t it? And the women’s 30K cross country—to race flat out for an hour and a half, over 30 kilometers, in difficult snow, and to be separated by three-tenths of a second at the finish—that was astonishing.