I have something to admit: the past eight years or so, I haven’t really watched much of the Olympics. As someone who avidly soaked up both the winter (figure skating) and summer (swimming, diving, gymnastics) games during my childhood, and also as someone who takes national pride fairly seriously, I am ashamed that I just didn’t really watch much of the Olympics after 2004 in Athens. I am someone who, due to what I think of as the OCD part of her nature, likes to accomplish all or nothing, so I think the challenge of not getting to watch so much of the games because of school or work has stopped me in the past. In fact, I remember my sister and I taped – on VHS tapes – portions of the 1996 Atlanta and 1998 Nagano games so we didn’t miss certain events (and then continued to watch our favorite bits for months).
Now, of course, we are so technologically advanced that NBC is streaming events live on their website and posting certain events in On Demand. Plus, if you have DVR or something like it, you can record broadcasts without the cumbersome need for lots (and lots) of videos. This, plus the fact that I currently have a completely non-traditional schedule, means I have caught the most Olympic events since I was 18. And you know what? It’s pretty cool. I keep seeing people gripe about the Winter Olympics being much less exciting than the Summer Olympics, and truth be told there are way fewer athletes and countries at any given winter games compared to summer, but mostly I think people from the U.S. have an unfair bias against any sport that requires judges as opposed to times or points scored. I think it speaks to our culture: we are a nation obsessed with hard-and-fast results, with “earning” what is yours and not being “given” anything. Think about how we think about the poor, about success, about the American dream: most of the time, it’s about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, being independent, not relying on others.
So naturally, many Americans mock sports like figure skating, a huge part of the Winter Olympics and a sport (yes, a sport) that requires judges to assess and assign points. That requires someone else to tell you how well you did. Americans don’t like relinquishing that type of control. And I think our population is turned off not only by the fact that skating is judged but also by the artistry that is a key part of the sport. After all, what artistry is there to be found in football aka the U.S. obsession? Or baseball or basketball? Not the type of artistry that is found in skating, anyway.
But I grew up watching figure skating – my grandmother loved it, so it was often on at her house and I knew all the household names: Nancy Kerrigan, Tanya Harding, Katarina Witt, Oksana Baiul, Elvis Stojko, Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Brian Boitano, Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski. And I firmly believe that anyone who can jump on anything as hard as ice and balance on anything as thin as a blade is an athlete participating in a sport. I just find the U.S. prejudice to be close-minded, indicative of the worst of our collective nature: if you can’t entirely measure it objectively, then it shouldn’t count. But there’s so much more to sport and to life than objectivity. Are the teams we choose to root for objective? Are our favorite players decided objectively? Doesn’t every sport have some wiggle room in the rules, some calls that are controversial?
In the end, I know I’m making a lot of generalizations (which you may or may not agree with). I know I’m probably not convincing anyone. But watching the Olympics again put me up in arms about all the comments people make about it and some of the athletes. I want to try and understand, but I also want to defend. So this is my argument for figure skating, for sports that so many people I know criticize. I may sound like a fool. But honestly, what sports fan doesn’t?