I am not a dedicated watcher of the Winter Olympics. But I do tune in occasionally, and when I do, it’s frequently not wonder or excitement or patriotism that I feel. It’s a deep sense of mystery. Why are these skiers stopping to shoot things? Why are these siblings doing a sexy dance on skates? Why are these people sweeping the ice with brooms? Did the housekeeping staff not show up?
I’m not bashing the athletes. Well, maybe the curlers. Otherwise, these Olympians are amazing. Some of the world’s greatest thighs are on display at the Winter Games. There is real power and grace in winter sports. I just don’t get them. I feel no connection. And I know I can’t be alone.
California has regal mountain ranges and (say a prayer) lots of snow, and therefore lots of skiers and snowboarders. Those activities make sense to us. And hockey is familiar, of course. It’s sort of the weird uncle at the family table of North American sports. But some of these Winter Olympic events are utterly foreign. They seem lifted from a mythical world of ogres and tattered fur coats, where people survive by trapping martens and digging up berries from beneath several inches of snow.
It’s fun, as a novelty. But it’s not compelling, because we don’t have the shared history to appreciate men arduously chugging 50 kilometers on skis. And come on. All that snow. All that ice. Event after event. Enough of the white background already.
People, it doesn’t have to be like this. The Winter Olympics don’t have to be an Arctic Gladiators-style carnival act. They can be great sports. We just need to move some things around.
We’re so used to our current sets of alternating Olympic Games that we have come to see them as normal. The more you think about the groupings, though, the more bizarre the whole system appears.
The Olympics, in total, offer a vast breadth of athletic competition. There are events on fields, on courts, on courses, on tracks, on mats, on rinks, on slopes, on horses and bicycles, in rings, pools, rivers and harbors. Olympians run, jump, punch, grapple, kick, dribble, shoot, glide, ski, pedal, sail, swim, dive and row. The variety is staggering.
Now consider how we have chosen to divide the events. In the winter? The things on ice and snow. In the summer? Eeeevvvverything else under the sun and under the lights. It’s as if we decided to divide the United States into separate territories (and let’s face it, that may be only a few years away), and one side got the vast expanse of beaches, mountains, valleys and deserts, while the other side got Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Do you know how many sports are currently represented in the respective games? The summer has 42. The winter has 15. This is seasonalism at its worst.
The Olympic sorting makes semantic sense because we have chosen to stage the games in winter and summer. Winter = snow and ice, so what else could we do? But it would be just as logical to hold the Spring Olympics, made up of swimming and diving, and the Autumn Olympics, made up of every other damn thing.