Why the Olympics totally blow


Has it been four years already?

Yes, as you all know, the Olympics are here again. (Well, not here but in China or wherever.)

Apologies to Dave, whose (admittedly tepid) “love” for the Olympics was captured earlier this week, but here’s why I pretty much loathe the Olympics and why I hope they never come back to Los Angeles:

1. Coverage of the Olympics is super cheesy. You know what I’m talking about. Some find the heartwarming stories emotionally compelling, but mostly the overblown sentimentality just makes me gag. Slate.com captures this perfectly with their Olympics “Sap-o-Meter,” an actual web application that will keep you abreast of NBC’s saccharine Olympic coverage by keeping track of commentators’ use of “syrupy… chronically overused words” like…

adversity, battled, cancer, challenges, courage, cry, death, dedication, determination, dream, emotion, glory, golden, hardship, heart, hero, inspiration, inspire, journey, magic, memory, miracle, mom, mother, Olympic-sized, overcome, passion, proud, sacrifice, spirit, tears, tragedy, triumph.

Genius. I love you, Slate (even if the The Atlantic’s Matt Yglesias thinks you’re a center-right publication).

Plus, speaking of cheese, there was that whole fake fireworks thing:

fake fireworks


2. Sports are dumb and liking them is dumb, too.
OK, I’ll admit that I like sports. But I also admit to being kind of dumb. Plus, I feel ashamed and guilty about liking sports because, seriously, sports are pretty silly. For one thing, people make ridiculous amounts of money playing games that make very little sense, the rules of which are often completely arbitrary. Take the-soon-to-be-discontinued Olympic sport of baseball, for instance. You’ve got nine guys standing around in a field:

One of these guys stands on a “mound’ in the field and throws a ball near another guy from the other team who’s standing at a “plate” while holding a wooden bat. They guy with the bat has three to seven (possibly more) chances to hit the ball into the field with his bat. Anyway, if the guy hits the ball, he can run around some “bases” arranged in the shape of a diamond until he’s either tagged with the ball or someone else is tagged with the ball or the ball is caught or he scores by stepping on the fourth and final base or … well, you get the idea. Four balls, three strikes, three outs, four bases, nine innings, a playing field constructed of totally random dimensions—what does it all mean? I have no clue. It’s a total mystery. And don’t even get me started on badminton.

3. (Most) athletes really aren’t that courageous, despite what sportswriters, NBC commentators, and Nike would have you believe. Or at least it’s hard for me to imagine that swimming back and forth in a pool or hitting a target with an arrow or running .0013 seconds faster than the guy next to you takes lots of courage. Until we have a competition in which people rescue infants from burning buildings, or deliver food to starving refugees under timed conditions, can we please stop referring to athletes as brave or heroic for playing games that, most likely, are kind of ridiculous to begin with? (But wait! What if they tweaked their knee or have a blister on their pitching hand, you ask? Yes, I know it’s an extreme view—but, even in these cases, let’s give up all this courage nonsense.)

4. Also, athletes are dumb and cheering for them is dumb, too. All right, they’re not dumb. In fact, some of them are incredibly smart, good people who are nice to puppies and old ladies, too. And, actually, I’m mostly in favor of the true amateur athletes. But how come nowadays there are all these super-famous pros competing in the Olympics? It’s one thing to root for amateurs competing in the little-known, un-appreciated sports like fencing (except don’t they stab each other with swords in that one?) or handball. But rooting for, say, professional American basketball players making zillions of dollars is something else entirely. Nicknamed “The Redeem Team” because, tragedy of tragedies, the “Dream Team” of four years ago only won bronze after losing to an upstart Greek team, the U.S. team is loaded with pro talent and the corresponding egos that come along with said-talent. Take this description of the recent U.S.-Angola game (from Espn.com), of a particular play involving American Superstar LeBron James:

James hadn’t done much offensively midway through the second quarter when he made his presence felt on the other end, jumping so high to block Felizardo Ambrosio’s shot that it looked more like a volleyball spike, with James glaring back at the fallen Ambrosio as the ball went out of bounds.

Seriously, how can anyone cheer-on a team with players who glare at their (completely overmatched) opponents for simply having the audacity to occupy the same court? I’m getting sick of hearing about how the U.S. needs to bring back the gold. I say let Angola have the gold.

5. Nationalism: “some say it’s OK, but I say no way.” I’m glad I’m not running for president because I would’ve just lost the election for throwing my flag pin in the trash:

stupid flag pin

I live in a country that has afforded me incredible privilege, including, ironically, the privilege to say that nationalism is dumb. I was born here, and I certainly feel lucky for that (especially after George W.’s recent comment in Beijing about how he doesn’t “see America having problems”). But I still find it troubling to root for my own country, to see us grab medal after medal as if we’re some disgustingly imperialist power-hungry superpower out to get all the glory and accolades and wealth and resources and weapons and oil and cheap goods made overseas, etc., etc., at the expense of all the other poorer, weaker countries. I mean, we don’t do that—right? (Wait, are we still talking about the Olympics here?)

I was reading an article recently about some economists that have created relatively accurate predictors of Olympic success based solely on a country’s population and wealth. Lo and behold, two of the most populous and wealthy countries in the world are leading in the medal count as I type this: the U.S. with 23 medals, China with 21. Really, it’s hard not to see our Olympic aspirations as a reflection of our country’s (and China’s) desire to achieve and/or maintain global dominance, a thinly veiled, globally sanctioned celebration of the world’s superpowers, not to mention every country’s desire to advance its own national interests. And, anyway, aren’t sports just the ultimate expression of socially acceptable–even celebrated–greed? After all, we cheer on Michael Phelps in his pursuit of a world-record 8 gold medals, but why should I want one person (much less one country) to hog up all the gold, all the glory?

Anyway, since I’m definitely not rooting for China either, my newly adopted country is going to be Togo (even though I have no idea where that is), with its one little medal (bronze), won by my newly adopted countryman, Benjamin Boukpeti, in the men’s canoe/kayak slalom:

ben b

FYI: After doing a bit of web research, I’ve learned that the country of Togo is well-known for its delicious sandwiches. I recommend the #24, with turkey and avocado.

Ouch, yikes, sorry. That was really cheesy. Regardless, I’ll start watching the Olympics in earnest as soon as either sandwich-making or -eating becomes an official event.

23 responses to “Why the Olympics totally blow”

  1. lane says:

    this was dumb . . . .

    ha ha, just kidding.

    Seriously, i haven’t watched the Olympics since Atlanta,

    Sydney? – NIL!

    Athens? – NIL!

    I used to like Olympic coverage, but now, New York City just offers so many other things to do.

    I am inclined to ask “Television?! You still watch television? Don’t you have any friends?!”

  2. Dave says:

    Jeremy, you’ve been reading Yglesias! Yay! (He’s now at the Center for American Progress, not the Atlantic, though.) And Slate is such a center-right publication.

  3. 1. Coverage of the Olympics is super cheesy.

    This, totally. This is really my main reason for disliking (rather than “not caring about”) the Olympics. Did you catch this story? Substituting one (insufficiently) cute little girl with another (more photogenic) one on stage seems to me llike about the height of cheesiness. And I think it is the kind of thing that in a different world, one organized more according to my tastes, the Olympics would work against. But in the sorry sphere we currently stand on, the Ollympics promote exactly this kind of nonsense.

  4. Godfree says:

    Yes, sports + nationalism = fat idiots in the stands waving flags and praying to god for more and more gold. Sounds a lot like the Papacy actually.

  5. farrell fawcett says:

    First off, I have to admit that, like Dave, I’m kind of a sucker for the olympics and I meant to comment on Dave’s post that I was totally down with his confessions and secret enjoyment of many things about the games. I’ve been turning the TV on almost every night since the opening ceremonies, something which I rarely do in the summertime. But when I’m forced (by trixie’s perplexed looks) to examine why I tolerate, actually enjoy, the olympics, but not things like NBA basketball or the World Cup, I think I can trace a line back to my childhood. The olympic’s appeal for me is fundamentally a very nostalgic thing, going back decades to when my parent’s excitement for the games permanently colonized my budding tastes for cultural events. It’s pretty silly, but so powerful, the effect of childhood on my enjoyment of the world.

    That said, I’m with you here Jeremy on just about every point, especially the whole “courage” thing. But there’s one thing. Your point (using the baseball example) that sports are arbitrary and weird and therefore dumb. Isn’t the world full of arbitrary weird activities? Chess, card playing, crack dice, dancing, the art world? But aren’t those things still awesome? Why pick on baseball? It’s as glorious as any of those other things I just mentioned. Doesn’t your line of logic make those things just as “dumb” as sports?

  6. farrell fawcett says:

    Oh, and one more thing. Our local news out here (and everywhere?) reduces the games to the “medal count.” The olympics as nothing more than a way of adding up points in the battle of the US versus every other country in the world. Disgusting.

  7. trixie says:

    dear jeremy,
    thank you for this articulate and thoughtful examination of why the olympics are so freaking annoying and lame.
    farrell is a big fan, like dave.
    i will watch it if forced, but prefer to avoid it, and in my house this leaves me feeling like a debbie downer.
    now i understand that it actually means that i rule, as do you.
    now and forever your good friend,

  8. lane says:

    oh but maybe it bear mentioning,

    the architecture,

    that stadium is amazing. it’s great that a nation can get it up to build something that beautiful.

  9. julietheppqueen says:

    okay i am in the unpopular camp with farrell and dave. i enjoy the olympics. in fact i get teary eyed. but i am a sucker for sports triumps such as anything about Mohommad Ali or say Hoop Dreams. yeah, maybe the athlete may be book dumb but they are body smart. i think there is alot to admire about a perfect axle or a slam dunk. I also admire the amount of diligent traiining with one specific goal in mind. I also may like farrell be partly taken with the nostalgia of sitting in the den with my family as a young girl hearing my dad cheer and feeling surprised and thrilled at such a instinctual reaction on a quiet monday night.I remember crying while I watched the uneven bars I wanted to fly so high. I later taught myself the Cherry Drop on the school yard bars and I sprained my shoulder attempting an Arial in my backyard. But jeremy I beg you watch the gymnastics or the diving. How can you not marvel at the possibilities of the human body? I don’t care what you say, to watch someone do a triple axle flip and land in the splits is couragious to me. That shit is scary!
    As far as nationalism goes I often root for the Eastern European countries. I do the same with pro basketball leaning towards Croatians. FYI.

  10. trixie says:

    i don’t know why my comment came up after farrell’s- it wasn’t there when i wrote mine and makes me look like even more of a debbie downer.
    oh well.
    sorry, everyone.

  11. jeremy says:

    Dave, I’d say Slate is center-left (Yglesias also says The Atlantic is center-right pub., too, which I also disagree with… and I knew he was leaving the AM, but I didn’t know he was already gone. Must’ve been rather recent).

    And, yes, Farrell, I agree that SO many things are arbitrary yet still worthwhile, fun, etc., but I think they become so part of our norm that we sometimes forget how capricious it all is. I mean, I actually follow baseball, but when I really think about the rules of the game, I’m like–what the F?! (Some things, though, seem less arbitrary to me, though–a race, for instance; or even football, a sport I don’t like at all, which seems a relatively appropriate metaphor for war, what with the occupation of “territory,” etc.

    Also, julie, I didn’t really mean to say that athletes aren’t book smart (though very often they’re not)–i just meant that liking them seems kind of lame because they’re either super egotistical or jerks or, yes, dumb. But not all of them!

    (And, sheesh, I’m actually sort of a sports “fan,” so I’m also a total hypocrite.)

    Finally, Trixie–I wish I were right there in PA avoiding the Olympics and being a Debbie Downer along with you!

  12. jeremy says:

    Trixie, don’t be sorry! (Who’s more of a Debbie Downer than me, anyway? I need some company…)

  13. LP says:

    I love the notion of great sports competitions, fantastic athletic performances, etc., but I agree with Jeremy and Modesto that the cheesiness factor in the coverage is completely off-putting. I’ve often wished I could watch the Olympics as covered by some other country’s media, without all the flag-waving, “inspirational” stories and relentless focus on US athletes. Blech.

    I did see some of the synchronized diving while at the airport yesterday, though. Wow. Where else you gonna see something like that but at the Olympics?

  14. Marleyfan says:

    I’d have to strongly agree with Julie the PeePee Queen.

  15. Dave says:

    it’s great that a nation can get it up to build something that beautiful.

    Yes, it takes an erect national phallus to create great architecture.

  16. jeremy says:

    Oh geez, did any of you hear/see this story, about Spain’s Olympic basketball team photo, in which all the players are pulling their eyes back in an apparent attempt to make them look Chinese?

  17. trixie says:

    i think you may find javelin-throwing to be a very intriguing event this olympic season.
    it turns out that an athlete named Leryn Franco, from Paraguay, is also a swimsuit model.
    does it mean that i actually like sports that i think she’s much hotter in the javelin-throwing picture (you may disagree…)

  18. LP says:

    The other thing I find dismaying about the Olympics now, apart from the fact that there are so many professional athletes (I miss the days of all-amateur teams), is that anyone can apparently join any country’s team if they don’t happen to make their own.

    When I read that Georgia’s beach volleyball team defeated the Russians, I was thrilled. I’m a Russophile, but the recent Russian invasion of Georgian territory is disgusting. Yet the thrill of the victory wore off quickly when I read that the “Georgian” team consisted of a pair of Brazilian women who have absolutely no ties to the country at all. Except to agree to become citizens to compete in the Olympics.

  19. Dave says:

    Oh, and seriously, the Atlantic is the very face of center-right magazine publishing.

    Slate is arguable — they do have Fred Kaplan and Dahlia Lithwick, but then again they have the vile Will Saletan and the execrable Mickey Kaus, who is rumored to have unnatural relations with goats.

  20. Tim says:

    Slate also gives way too much pixelage to Christopher Hitchens. Defs center-right, if not even right.

    Also, plus, too, I’m getting increasingly frustrated with the narrowness of NBC’s Olympics coverage (which I turn on as I’m on the way to bed). For instance, there were about 40 other events going on yesterday, but only swimming got any airtime, primarily because Americans dominate the sport. In between the races (which were not even for medals, btw) we got re-caps of all the events that Michael Phelps has ever won gold in, bios of other swimmers (all of them Americans, natch), endless shots of swimmers jangling their legs and arms five minutes before they got in the water, etc. Not even brief reportage of, say, the Table Tennis or Archery events. Just a few scores, NBC! Maybe a 3-minute clip! C’mon!

  21. Dave says:

    Have you tried the streaming video from their website, Tim? You have to lie and say you’re a digital cable subscriber, but they have a lot of events.

  22. Breanne says:

    I’m relieved to see posts like this after a grueling day of, “what do you mean you haven’t been watching the olympics?!”

    On a side note, I have a scar on my hand from my high school job at Togo’s cutting avocados for your beloved #24’s. Damn them with the Olympics.

  23. Jeremy says:

    I hope you believe (as I do), Breanne, that your high school scar was well worth it, as you must’ve brought much happiness to many sandwich lovers… (To borrow some language from NBC’s Olympics broadcasts, I know I appreciate your courage and sacrifice and dedication to your (former) craft…)