For the last 10 days, the television around our house has been on non-stop—much to my boyfriend’s chagrin. The reason for the TV marathon is simple: the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Indeed, I love the Olympics so much that I watch the live coverage in the wee hours, followed by the highlights during primetime, essentially serving as re-runs to competition for which I already know the outcomes! I seem, in fact, to appreciate the Olympics more with every passing quadrennial. But why, I wondered? I pondered this question on my walk home, and here is what I came up with:
While there are world championships every, single year, the Olympics only come around every four years. As economists would explain—scarcity makes the heart grow fonder.
The Olympics provide an occasion to enjoy familiar sports (figure skating and downhill skiing, for example), but also to relish “minor” sports competitions. Being something of a sports snob, I initially looked down on the “new” sports added to the Winter Olympics—snowboarding, slope style skiing, the figure skating team completion, and the like. But, now I find these competitions very enjoyable! Moreover, NBC and its affiliates offer terrific coverage of less “popular” sports that have long been in the Olympics, including bobsledding, the luge, skeleton, or curling.
The Olympic performances are outstanding, obviously. And in viewing footage of Olympics of years past, it is easy to see the evolution of sporting performances. The medal winning skate by the lovely Peggy Fleming looks absolutely elementary compared to the sophisticated routines—with lots of complex jumps—by Gracie Gold or Ashley Wagner.
It is clear that NBC spends vast amounts of time conducting background research, before the Olympics, so that they can easily offer up the innumerable human interest stories. The features unveil the stories of Olympians who have overcome injury and personal hardship of all sorts. One of my very favorite pieces this year was about Canadian skier Alexandre Bilodeau, who was seeking to repeat his gold medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. With each and every competition, he is accompanied by his brother Frederic who has cerebral palsy and is clearly his brother’s number 1 fan. The sheer love and joy on both of their faces following Bilodeau’s winning run is now indelible in my mind.
I probably shouldn’t admit that I find pleasure in seeing “smaller” countries do well in the Olympics. This year, for example, the teams from Norway and the Netherlands have been outstanding. I wouldn’t say that I root against Americans, but I am happy to see the traditional winter powerhouses have their moment, in the sun, so to speak.
If only for two weeks, the Olympics provide a patina of peace and good will among countries. And often, as in the case of the Sochi Olympics, the fortnight offers a window into other countries and cultures. Most of the Olympians will leave without a medal—but for the rest of their lives they will be Olympians. What is better than that?