Finding relevance in the Olympics

Published 7:41 pm Monday, February 15, 2010

With the beginning of the 2010 Winter Olympics this past week, I’ve been thinking about something someone told me during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.

I don’t remember who it was now, but I asked that person how they were enjoying the Olympics.

Very matter-of-factly, that individual replied “I don’t watch the Olympics.”

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I was stunned. Astounded. Shocked. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Every other cliché in the book.

“How does someone not watch the Olympics?” I asked myself. Of course, everyone has his favorite sport, and maybe doesn’t watch the rest of them. Maybe they work a lot and don’t have time to watch, or can’t afford cable, and both those situations are certainly understandable.

But how does someone just purposely avoid watching the Olympics?

It was reported a couple weeks ago that NBC and its related networks will lose hundreds of millions of dollars broadcasting this year’s Winter Games from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Apparently, advertising dollars just aren’t up to par — not really surprising, in this economic climate.

However, perhaps it’s more than just the economy that is bringing the Olympics down a notch. More and more, normal folks around the world are becoming disenchanted with athletes who seem to compete in their respective sports for the lucrative endorsement deals, not for the love of the game.

Then there are the athletes — seemingly more in the winter games — who change their citizenship just for a better coach or a better chance at making the Olympic team. I’m all for chasing your goals, but so much for loyalty to country.

However, I desperately hope the Olympics continue to stay relevant to the general public for a long time to come. As someone who sits and watches obscure sports I know nothing about just for the enjoyment of watching the Olympics, I’m convinced there is still something special about them.

There’s nothing like watching an athlete who has trained for years all for a few seconds of skiing down a hill, skating around a rink, sprinting over hurdles or vaulting off a horse raise his country’s flag in victory.

There’s nothing like the tears in their eyes on the medal stand as their national anthem is played. There’s nothing like watching athletes whose countries have been at war for years smile and shake hands.

I still don’t get the people who say they just “don’t watch the Olympics.” I guess sports aren’t for everybody, but nothing has universal appeal like “the thrill of victory.”