Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My History with the Olympics - part two

So the torch was finally lit for the Vancouver Olympics Friday night in a cavalcade of spectacle. The opening ceremony had it all - a parade of nations to challenge your understanding of geography, special effects to dazzle or confuse the senses, a crazy poet with the worst chinbeard ever, and a celebration of the torch that was comic yet touching. The comedy was present when the torch cauldron inside BC Place stuck, and one of the doors protecting the arm didn't open. For two and a half long agonizing minutes, the torch bearers (4 of them) stood in place wondering what would happen, but then the three other arms came up, the torch was lit inside and everyone celebrated. It was like the fortress of solitude for Superman broke, and they couldn't get it fixed, but it was historic in that more than one person lit the cauldron and they did it inside.
But then in a scene that was amazing, the great Wayne Gretzky ran to catch a ride, and suddenly he was in the back of a pickup driving down the streets of downtown Vancouver. They were lighting a second cauldron outdoors, and the great one was going to be the person lighting this one. And sure enough, it went without a hitch and the crowd erupted in approval. Watching the truck glide through the city and seeing the residents jump up and down in celebration was interesting. The world's biggest celebration of sports was underway, and Vancouver opened its arms to the world.
Not that it hasn't been without other incidents. Earlier in the day, a luger from Georgia was tragically killed in a training accident up at Whistler, which put a damper on some of the celebration. Accidents are part of the game in sports like luge, where athletes hurl themselves down a sheet of ice at speeds that most of us don't drive our cars at, but in this instance, the luger lost control on the final turn and shot off the track into a steel pole. The officials there made some tough but quick decisions to alter the competition starting points and put up extra barriers around that fateful turn, but apparently, there were some questionable decisions made prior to the Games that had some competitors up in arms. Organizers tried to make the fastest track in the world, and in succeeding, they pushed the envelope to the edge which means the margin of error should something bad happen is minuscule. Plus, Canadian luge officials apparently didn't make the track as available to other competitors before the Games, meaning that racers hadn't had the chance to really get comfortable with the layout unless your helmet had the maple leaf on it.
Officials also said afterwords the track was safe and the accident was rider caused, which led to a lot of firestorm as well. I learned later that the luger had taken 26 training runs on the course before Friday, and to compete at this level, you need to have a certain amount of skill just to be there. It's not like we're talking about a complete rookie here, but then again, even the most experienced racers were having problems with the course. I get that you want the most competitive and even handed course available, but in attempting to make things more interesting, there has to be a balance between speed and safety, otherwise you are tempting fate and things like what happened on Friday will happen more often. I'm sure the debate about this will continue as people try to point a finger and determine a reason why something happened. But while it's important to understand the why, it's also important to deal with the what happened, and continuing the competition was the right decision to make as long as they are being safe about it.
Also, protests earlier in the day marred the torch relay, making course reroutes necessary to get the torch to its destination. The demonstrations continued through Saturday, taking a more destructive stance as protesters turned violent with property destruction in downtown Vancouver. Nothing brings out people looking for a stage for their cause like an event that is drawing worldwide attention, and sure enough, those wanting a sympathetic ear are trying to state their case, no matter the consequences. I'm all for social activism if the heart is in the right place, but nothing excuses the destruction of other people's property just to prove a point. I get that there are serious issues about that need attention, and it's important to deal with those things rather than sweep them under the carpet, but I can't be sympathetic with those that decide their need to be heard comes at the cost of harming others directly or indirectly. Maybe the homeless in Vancouver need some help, but trashing stores in the downtown Vancouver area isn't the way to inspire people to do something.
Lastly, I couldn't believe how much disdain people have for Olympics coverage from NBC, including a person who created a Facebook group about it. NBC is already dealing with the controversial decision in their late night programming and the ramifications there, and now their coverage of the Vancouver Games is drawing similar levels of criticism. From not showing the United States - Canada men's hockey competition on their main channel relegating the game to MSNBC in lieu of ice dancing, putting most of the events on tape delay instead of showing them live and admitting they're doing it, and using integrated advertising within the games coverage themselves, I don't know of anyone that is happy about anything the peacock network is doing.
And they don't seem to care despite all of the anger being shown on blogs and other media outlets, because despite all of it, we're apparently still watching. Me, I'm upset that two shows that I absolutely love, the Office US and Community, reside on a network that things manipulating coverage to fit their needs instead of letting things happen naturally and telling the story as it happens works. Seriously, this network couldn't figure out what to do with the Tonight Show when the guy promised the job was doing what he was supposed to while the guy that had the job suddenly wanted his job back, and so they nearly destroyed their network framework in the process of trying to solve the issue. So how can I trust them to cover these events in the way that helps sports fans.
I get that the Olympics draws a lot of casual sports fans, and a lot of them love skating for whatever reason. I can't stand it because I hate sports that have subjective judging that doesn't allow me to completely understand why one person spinning four times in the air is better than another person that does the very same thing. At least with most skiing, bobsled, hockey, track skating, it's easy because the person that gets the course done first wins and although I can't ski like that, I can relate to the competition of knowing the best person won. But the Olympics aren't about me or any sports fans anymore, it's all about ratings and fierce corporate logos, complete with overpriced souvenirs. I've finally figured out that there are some wonderful websites available where I can watch what I want when I want to find out what's going on, and avoid the pomposity and blatant slant that NBC is portraying, and if I really want to watch the games, I should just watch the Simpsons version anyway. If you want to watch it, you can do it here. And now, let's welcome Albania, Ghostbusters style!!

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