The opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics start Friday, and if you’re like me, you only know this because you think you remember seeing something on a commercial that aired during some other NBC show last week. There are 20 Coloradoans participating in the 2006 Winter Games, in everything from biathlon to downhill skiing. I’ll be rooting for all of them, good ol’ Colorado boy that I am, but only if I happen to turn on the TV when some event happens to be showing.
Much has been written about why the Winter Olympics, and this year particularly, don’t seem all that interesting, but for me there is nothing unique about my disinterest in 2006 compared to my disinterest in 2002 (although it was fun in 2002 to watch the hosts try to explain polygamy and complicated drinking laws when the Games were held in Salt Lake City, Utah). I find figure skating somewhat interesting, and downhill skiing is kind of cool, and as for hockey…I can’t get into hockey anyway. I was one of those people who didn’t really notice when the NHL cancelled last season.
My disinterest in the Winter Olympics stems from the fact that so many of the sports and competitions are too isolated from the world as a whole, while the others seem a little too…unsportlike. The beauty of the Summer Olympics, for example, can be summarized for me in the 100-meter run (or is it ‘dash?’ Do they still call it ‘dash,’ or did that stop in elementary school?). The 100-meter run is a simple test to see who is the fastest man or woman to run from here to there. That’s an age-old contest, and I’d done it many times before as a child. Even the shot put makes sense to me — who can throw this big rock the farthest? I can relate. You can make a similar argument with skiing or speed-skating — who is the fastest from point A to point B — but there are so many places in the world where there isn’t snow or ice that it’s not quite the same.
The goofy “sports” are where I really get cross-ways with the Winter Olympics. Take skeleton, or curling, or even biathlon? If you are the best in the world in one of those events, how many people can you say you are better than? A few hundred? If you win the 100-meter run, you can say that you are faster than everyone else in the world, because most everyone else in the world could line up and run with you. That’s pretty cool, and your title is well-deserved. But I can’t go practice the skeleton. Where the hell am I going to find a long icy track to slide down?
To be one of the best skeltoners in the world, don’t you kind of need to know somebody who can let you in the club? That’s not a sport, it’s a secret society. If you win the gold medal in the skeleton, congratulations. But how many people now separate you and me? 100? I’ll never be the fastest man in the world, but I could concievably be the best skelton racer person in the world, because there aren’t that many people I need to be better than. I just don’t know where to go to try it.
On the other hand, that could be part of the charm of the Winter Olympics. People are competing in events that you or I could actually probably do. There are exceptions, of course — there’s no way I could compete in ice hockey, figure skating or downhill skiing (and there’s no way in hell I would try ski jumping) — but I could certainly sit myself down on a cookie sheet and rocket down an icy track. I’d be seriously injured, of course, but I could do it. The fact that I could be injured for not doing it right doesn’t make it a sport; if that were true, then we should start awarding gold medals to people convicted of DUIs.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to my four rules for determining if something is a sport or not a sport:
1. If there’s really no way for me to do it, then it’s not a sport. I can’t go bobsledding, but I can go skiing. Bobsledding: not a sport. Skiing: definitely a sport.
2. If the other team doesn’t know it’s playing, then it’s not a sport. This has nothing to do with the Winter Olympics, but it’s a steadfast rule of mine. Hunting is not a sport. Nobody told the deer that it was playing, and if they had, I’m sure the deer would have graciously declined to participate. You can go hunting if you’d like, but don’t tell me it’s a sport. Sneak up on the deer and kill it with your bare hands, and then we’ll talk. I’ll be impressed, but I still won’t call it a sport.
3. If you could play it on the deck of a cruise ship, then it’s not a sport. Ping pong? Not a sport. Curling? Not a sport. What’s the difference between curling and shuffleboard, besides the broom?
4. If I don’t know anybody who has ever done it, then it’s not a sport. Skeleton and luge? Not a sport. Biathlon? Not a sport. I don’t know anybody who has ever cross-country skied with a big gun on their back and then stopped to shoot at things. If I did know somebody who did that, I certainly wouldn’t spend much time with them.
So anyway, I’ll keep an eye on the Winter Olympics, but mostly because there’s not much else on TV these days. It’s a good spectacle sometimes, but as for a great few weeks of sport…eh.