– Ed Butler.
Do you remember that kid at school? The one who, lacking the talent, smarts, good looks or social graces of more popular children, they decide, in their determination to fit in, to do everything the cool kids do, only MOAR. And it never quite works.
In the Olympic movement, the Winter Games are that kid.
The forced coolness. The forced ‘extremeness’. The forced number of events – it’s all there, if only the school counsellor could see it. In Sochi, there are also only 15 categories (or as some of us know them, ‘sports’), compared to the 41 possessed of the warm weather stuff we saw in Beijing.
- Alpine skiing
- Cross Country Skiing
- Figure Skating
- Freestyle skating
- Ice Hockey
- Nordic Combined skiing
- Short track speed skating
- Ski jumping
- Speed skating
Perhaps we should break this down: If we are to consolidate the skiing, skating and sliding on a sleigh sports, there are seven. Seven. They are so desperate for sports, they actually separate ‘speed skating’ and ‘short track speed skating’ into separate categories. To be clear, this doesn’t mean separate ‘events’ like the 400m and 800m sprints, but they treat these two forms of identical recreation as being as dissimilar as swimming and pole vaulting.
In order to get attention, the Winter Olympics have basically had to trade off the safety of competitors. Can you remember the last time a Winter Olympics came around that wasn’t accompanied by a chorus of ‘this is the most intense/dangerous/downhill/luge track/whatever I’ve ever seen!’
We watch the Winter Olympics with the same morbid fascination we watch Formula One. We find it interminably boring most of the time, but the chance to watch someone face-plant onto a snowy hill after launching from a ludicrous ramp, or seeing someone come undone on two skis at 130kph, is too much to resist. Tell me you haven’t had an event on in the background during dinner or something, only to have it become unequivocally the foreground the minute the commentators utter the telltale ‘ooooh’. Go on, tell me that’s never happened. From that point, you’re transfixed for a couple more minutes before going back to your sweet potato once you realise another anonymous, masked person hurls themselves downhill.
Likewise, the embrace of the California games model of attracting attention does little to commend it to anyone. Radical as the half pipe may be, one imagines ‘altius’ doesn’t refer to the kind of ‘higher’ commonly associated with such contests. And if it is, the X games already does it better.
Because that’s what the Winter Olympics have become; the X Games on ice. The Disneylympics. They even have the ice princesses.
It’s entirely possible that the Winter Olympics are even MORE condescending towards its female athletes than the summer equivalent. One imagines the ‘winter’ branch of the IOC furrow their brows and beat their hands against the icy walls of their Norwegian lair, bemoaning the thick and multitudinous layers of protective garb their ladies wear. Thank God magazines like Sports Illustrated are there to strip those layers away and show us the ‘human story’ beneath.
And wait, no one gives a shit about the X Games anyway. When did you last watch the street luge?
– Simon Copland
It’s simple. The Winter Olympics are fucking awesome. They are so awesome they are clearly better than the Summer Olympics. And anyone who disagrees obviously doesn’t understand the meaning of the word awesome.
First, Winter Olympic sports are far more interesting than Summer Olympic Sports. Just look at the racing. The speed, danger and exhilaration of skiers going over 130km an hour in the downhill skiing. The excitement of watching speed skaters nudging each other out as they take on the short course. The sheer stupidity, yet at the same time the brilliance, of the skeleton. In each and every way these competitions are far more interesting that the relative snore that is the swimming and athletics that dominates the summer scene.
But, wait there’s more! Because then you add on the aerial ski jumping. A feast of aerobatics that is as every bit as dangerous as it is enjoyable. And the long ski jumping. I mean when did someone first think it was a good idea to try and jump over 130 metres on skis? I don’t know when, but I’m glad they did! Even the figure skating, whilst with fewer categories, clearly competes with its summer counterpart in the gymnastics. The skill, speed and danger of that sport is amazing.
I guess the only critique available is the lack of team sports. But the Winter Olympics makes up for it by making their one team sport the best sport you could really ask for: ice hockey! In what other sport do players smash so hard into the walls that they obliterate the glass barriers! You fine me another sport like that and I will definitely watch it.
And that’s the other thing – the Winter Olympics are brutal. Nearly every sport involves a huge level of risk – whether it’s the risk of crashing on the mountain, or quickly losing your footing on your skates. Players are putting their bodies on the line and that makes for a feast not only of daring competition, but of one that is bloody exciting to watch.
It’s not just about the joy of watching the crashes – in these sports you have to get it right. One slip up and you are gone. These sports are brutal, not just in their danger level, but in the consequences of what happens when you make a mistake. These competitors have to be at their best or they are out. Who could ask for a better sort of competition?
Watch the Summer Olympics and you can see the pressure on the competitors – people braking down when they ‘only’ manage to finish second. Whilst the Winter Olympics are of course competitive, I have never seen competitions where opponents are so excited to see others do well. Where people are literally jumping up and down for joy because they got a bronze, or simply because they made the final. Or where the first reaction of the person who just lost the gold medal is to run over to their competitor, congratulate them and give them a big hug.
The Winter Olympics embodies more of what sport should be about. Competition, but with an understanding that enjoying the sport is more important. That challenging yourself is more important. And that those who beat you deserve a thorough congratulations. The Winter Olympics embodies everything that should be good about sport.
And if all of that didn’t convince you, I have one more word to say: curling.
And if curling doesn’t convince you, you don’t deserve to be convinced. You can have your Summer Olympics and we’ll keep the Winter Games for all the cool kids.