It seems the 2018 Winter Olympics are now underway. How much time will you spend watching?
I used to be an enthusiastic Olympics-watcher. You’d think all the technology and TV networks would make it easier to watch the events, but I find it much harder.
When I was a kid in the 1970s, it was all pretty simple. The host network might air a few of the less-popular competitions in the afternoon or late at night, but if you weren’t home during the day or willing to stay up until three a.m., you were shit out of luck because this was in the prehistoric, pre-VCR days.
All the most-anticipated events aired during prime time every evening, and the whole family watched together. This was also before the internet and social media, so you didn’t have to worry about avoiding spoilers. The evening news, if something earth-shattering had happened during the day, would always helpfully warn you to look away or turn down the volume before revealing any spoilery details. Time zones? Forget it. The Olympics happened from 7-11 p.m., regardless.
In the 1980s, when I was a young at-home mom, I watched a lot of Olympic coverage. Cable was by then a thing, and the host’s partner networks let me watch more than ever, and I sort of cared. I actually had a childhood friend, Amy Gamble, compete in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, and everyone made a point to follow the hometown girl. I also edited her book last year, and you should absolutely check it out! Bipolar Disorder, My Greatest Competitor: An Olympian’s Journey With Mental Illness is incredible.
Now, though, it’s almost like there are so many viewing options I can’t even start. No matter the time of day, there’s something being broadcast on the host network, or one of the other networks they own. News, events, recaps, specials, retrospectives…who has that kind of time?
It’s different than having a favorite sports team or race car driver. You follow them every season, year after year, and have a lot of emotional energy invested in their performance. The Olympics, however, are made up of 99% people I’ve never heard of, or athletes I literally haven’t given a single thought in the past four years. Other than national pride–which is getting harder and harder to manufacture these days–the emotional investment isn’t there.
I haven’t watched any of these sports since the previous Games. I only vaguely recall the rules or how they’re scored, other than they all seem to involve either “go fast,” “don’t fall down,” or some combination of the two. I don’t know if the guy from Transylbergerstan hates the other guy from Blombodia because he beat him out by one point or 0.00001 second in the last big ski thing.
Thanks to social media, there’s no way to avoid pesky spoilers unless you totally unplug and vigilantly monitor every flip of the channel (or simply watch nothing but Netflix) so you don’t accidentally give away the outcome of the event you planned to watch later. Which, for most of us, is not an option.
I guess I can appreciate the edge-of-control thrill of luge, skeleton, downhill skiing, or bobsledding. Ice skating can be entertaining. Overall, though, I prefer the summer Olympics. Gymnastics has been a favorite event for me since Olga Korbut in 1972, though I wonder if I’ll feel the same for the 2020 Summer Olympics, or if knowing now what so many of those girls have gone through will taint the experience. Maybe it will make their strength and determination even more impressive.
Every little girl wanted to fly like this. I used to spend hours performing “floor routines” in the front yard, and was even briefly on the Y gymnastics team…but I quit before the first competition because team sports are so not my thing.
I sincerely admire the monumental accomplishment each athlete achieved by becoming an Olympian. That’s a dream far beyond what most of us could ever imagine. I wish them all well, and for thrilling competitions, but the tension and conflict are a bit overwhelming for me.
You’ll find me here in my usual spot in the evenings, watching The Vampire Diaries on Netflix.