I’ve tried to watch a little bit of the Olympics every evening.
By then, of course, I know the results, but I still enjoy seeing the events. A written report about, say, men’s figure skating is no substitute for actually watching the men perform in fabulous costumes, to absurdly over-the-top music. Personally, I can’t get enough of Evgeni Plushenko, the Russian figure skater and ungrateful silver medalist who has emerged as the big villain of the games. I first took an interest in Plushenko after watching an interview with the skater in which he said, “My enemies, they’re worried because I’m back. They’re afraid a little bit. … It’s a great feeling.” To me, there’s nothing funnier than a villainous Russian figure skater discoursing on the subject of his enemies. U.S. skater Evan Lysacek might have won gold, but it’s Plushenko’s unashamed bitterness that I’m going to remember. My friend Cabot called the figure skating “ridiculous,” and I’m pretty much inclined to agree with his assessment ... if what he meant to say was “ridiculously entertaining.”
Of course, I haven’t even mentioned ice dancing, which might be the most ridiculous Olympic event in the history of the world and, yes, I’m aware that curling is an Olympic sport. What exactly is ice dancing? Wikipedia explains that ice dancing is “a form of figure skating that draws from the world of ballroom dancing.” Somewhat amazingly, ice dancing featured one of the biggest controversies of the games: the Russians, whose dance was inspired by Australian aboriginal culture, were accused of depicting the Aborigines in a cartoonish light. “The ripping off of our art and songs is not respectful, and nor is this a depiction of my culture,” said Bev Manton, chair of the Aboriginal Land Council in New South Wales. “I don’t know why they wouldn’t first contact aboriginal people. I just think the whole thing is offensive.” The Russians got bronze, and the controversy died down. But still ... if you were to ask me why I love the Olympics, I would say, “Because I love a good ice dancing controversy.” Doesn’t everybody?
The one athlete I’m truly happy for is Bode Miller. Miller was expected to do really well at the 2006 Olympics, but was instead a huge flop, failing to medal in any of his events. He acted like a jerk, but didn’t seem to care, saying things like, “It’s been an awesome two weeks. I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.” Personally, I admire the fact that Bode doesn’t care what anybody thinks of him, and does things his own way. It’s actually refreshing to hear an Olympian question what the Olympics are all about, what winning is all about, and resist conducting himself like some sort of athletic golden boy. He was viewed as a dark horse at Vancouver, but I haven’t been surprised by his success. He seems to be one of those people who enjoys thwarting expectations. Miller’s redemption is a good story. There’s also the fact that he’s fun to watch, exciting and unpredictable, the must-see-TV of the Olympics. As Yahoo Sports columnist Charles Robinson wrote, “Despite his past, almost everyone around Miller has been banging the ‘new Bode’ drumbeat. Coaches talked about how he was skiing with succinct enthusiasm again and had embraced the Olympic spirit. His runs weren’t the product of cold analysis. They were spelled out more nebulously, like an emotion. Accurately explaining Miller’s passionate skiing was an elusive task, like trying to explain what love feels like. All anybody knew was that they knew it when they saw it.” (Read the whole article here.)
The athlete I feel a little sorry for is Scotty Lago, the snowboarder who won bronze in the halfpipe competition, and then returned home after sexually suggestive photos taken at a party surfaced. These photos show a woman bending down to kiss Lago’s medal while he pulls his shirt up, and the woman biting his medal. Reading this description, I wondered if I was missing something. “And what else do they show?” I asked, setting off in search of the racy pictures. But, no, that’s all they show — doofus party antics, which, the last time I checked, might be ill-advised, but are not illegal. (Personally, I remain grateful that nobody owned a cell phone camera when I was in college.)
I’m not sure what Olympics officials were expecting when they decided to make the games more compelling for younger audiences by bringing in more extreme sports such as freestyle skiing and snowboarding, which owe much of their appeal to their more somewhat rebellious, outsider status. As Yahoo sports columnist Jeff Passan wrote, “Lago is the smiling 23-year-old in the now-infamous pictures of an Olympic medalist celebrating. The photos are kids’ play, and yet because somebody caught Michael Phelps taking a bong hit, anything — anything — gets the USOC’s tighty-whities in a bunch. ... Olympic athletes across all sports have been on high alert against behaving poorly in public after the embarrassment caused by Phelps. Athletes were warned repeatedly heading into the Vancouver Games to conduct themselves well, particularly with cell phone cameras ever present. Oh, how rich that it was a snowboarder, a participant in the one sport that brings verve to an Olympic movement that grows more constipated by the year.” (Click here for the whole article. Or, click here to read a New York Times story about Lago’s exile at home in New Hampshire.)
Of course, I couldn’t read about Scotty Lago without being reminded of the story I read about the number of free condoms — 100,000 — that are distributed to athletes, coaches and other personnel staying in the Athletes’ Village. That, according to people who are better at math than me, amounts to 14.6 condoms for each of the 6,850 athletes and officials. Mike Celizic writes, “The citizens of the village are young, remarkably healthy, and the definition of physically attractive. In such an environment, flirting is as natural as breathing. ‘It’s eye candy all the time. Everybody’s checking everybody else out from moment they get there,’ recalled Cammi Granato, captain of the powerful U.S. Ice Hockey Team that won gold in Nagano in 1998 and silver in 2002 in Salt Lake City. Inevitably, some athletes get beyond flirting. ... The distribution of free condoms at the Olympics goes back at least to 1992 and Barcelona. In 2000, Sydney organizers thought that 70,000 would be enough. They were wrong and had to send out for 20,000 more. Beijing also ordered 100,000 condoms with an Olympic motto: Faster, higher, stronger.” (Click here to read the entire piece).
When I told a friend that Scotty Lago had gotten into trouble at the games, she asked, “Did the 100,000 condoms have anything to do with it?”
“You know, that’s really a lot of condoms,” I said. “Do you think the athletes use them all?”
“Of course not,” my friend said. “They bring them home as souvenirs, and give them to their friends.”
My friend seemed oddly certain of this. But I’m not an Olympic athlete, and I have no idea what goes on behind the walls of the Athletes’ Village. For me, it will remain an intriguing mystery.
BEAT ME AT MY OWN GAME
Every year I try to watch as many Oscar films as I can, and predict who will win. This year the Gazette is sponsoring an Oscar contest in which you, the readers, can try to outguess me. Contest details and ballots are available on the Gazette Web site by clicking here. My picks will be up March 4; the deadline for entering is March 3. The grand prize: two tickets to Bow Tie Cinemas in Schenectady, and a $50 gift certificate to a Schenectady restaurant of your choice.
Got a comment? E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.