Some Reasons Why I’m Really Missing the Winter Olympics
It’s been about a year, and I’m feeling the acutely oppressive weight of nostalgia; a yearning for the way things used to be. I know it’s not going to happen again—at least, not now. And while I also know I have to accept that, it doesn’t mean I have to feel okay about it. It doesn’t mean I don’t think about it all the goddamn time. I try to go about my business as usual, finding pleasure in other people and places and programming. But I’m not going to lie to myself. February lurks just around the corner and something is obviously missing. My evenings won’t have the same sparkle or that icy, heart-melting romance. There will be no slipping out for a little lunchtime action. There’s just no way it could be as winning as last year.
Because 2015 is not a Winter Olympics year.
Most people prefer the summer games. Chumps, all. For me, the Winter Olympics mean memories of a bedazzled Michelle Kwan lighting up the ice and that time I learned the amazing, mostly true story of the Jamaican Bobsled Team. I love the overwrought pomp and circumstance required to render the unremarkable pretty exciting. I love watching whole nations of dogs finally get their day, each of them doing it up huge because people finally care.
Winter sports live in the cool shadow of more exciting options, like gymnastics and synchronized diving and rubber-burning footraces. Whatever. The Winter Olympics may be the ugly twin, but that just means it has a much better personality. And so, as a February devoid of olympiad majesty descends, I’m gathering together a list of the things I’m really going to miss. To help me remember the good times, the #SotchiFails. Like that time Putin held literal boatloads of yogurt hostage. The memories—they’re all I have now.
Things I Love and Miss About the Winter Olympics, In No Particular Order
- The brain-teasing commercials: As with the Summer Olympics, the commercials that run during the Winter Games all get a glossing of sportiness. But unlike the Summer Olympics, there often exists no natural connection between the winter sports and the products advertised. Whereas a the crowning of the Fastest Man in the World might present a perfect marketing window for a new running shoe, very few people will translate the thrill of the luge into the purchase of their own spandex bodysuit w/ hood. The relation between what’s being advertised and advertising methods becomes tenuous and abstract, so that the commercials make exactly zero sense—in the best way. Smuckers cuts quickly between shots of jam and feats of athletic prowess on snowy slopes; no nod is given to the unifying theme, because only an idiot would need the relationship between strawberry preserves and Slalom champs explained. Pre-packaged deli-meat-and-cheese rolls are pandered “to those…who are hungry,” as athletes are after practice, I guess. The only company that wins is Orbit, which finally finds its perfect opportunity to promote Shawn White-flavored gum, a mystifying taste sensation as off-putting as its spokesperson.
- The costumes: Oh, the costumes. I love how most are one single sheet of spandex wrapped skin-tight ‘round the body and zipped from face to crotch. I love how the truly bizarre range of sports yields an equally bizarre range of aerodynamic designs, each of which is infinitely more utilitarian than meets the eye. From the super jazzy Norwegian curling pants to the ever-innovative and surprising uses for sequins, team uniforms are never just that. See the Nordic skiers like neon penguins, trundling along on feet wildly disproportionate to slender bodies. See the Zoot-suited Italian skater twizzle his 50’s pin-up partner across the ice; see the metallic chalk stripes of his unlikely movement clothes twist and fold with the exuberant precision of his eel motions. Allow yourself to be dazzled by the glitz and the glamor of the male figure skater’s billowing blouse—the cover of a romance novel come to life on the ice. Simply perfection.
- The slow-mo: Those magic moments when they replay the more spectacular skating moves in slow-motion and you get to see the distorting effect of that much G-force on the garishly made-up faces of your favorite athletes.
- The age difference: Athletes skew older—inching toward the winter of their lives—which is comforting for two reasons. Competitors my age are considered “youngsters,” whereas a 24- or 25-year-old Summer athlete is probably being nudged to consider a career in coaching or sportscasting. Watching the Winter Olympics, I don’t feel old the way I do when watching its hotter iteration. When a 39-year-old medals, I can reassure myself that have time to achieve my own Olympic glory. It seems more reasonable. And for the athlete, it feels like an honor truly earned, as if her career has [finally] been validated. It’s like a lifetime achievement award—the natural result of a professional life well spent. The mark of consistent excellence, seasoned over decades like a favorite cast iron skillet. And secondly, because we’re all familiar with the Olympic Village’s reputation. It’s a carnival of sex. I feel a lot better about the grizzled Russian skater—an announcer-proclaimed veteran, well into his thirties—going to bed with the young buck ice dancer because both are of consenting age. I feel deeply skeezed out when I think about the mid-to-late-twenties swimmers bedding the gymnasts in the throes of puberty. Because you know the gymnasts are going to be the belles of the Olympic Village ball.
- Visible roots in the sheer boredom of semi-Arctic climes: When your country is overtaken by cold and dark for most of the year, you must make your own fun and engineer entertainment from chores/survival maneuvers; you must hone to pointed perfection the day-to-day tasks of the Viking lifestyle, as you might a whale’s tooth. None of this superfluous ribbon-dancing: winter sport speaks to the unflinching pragmatism of the stony Northerner. Leave it to the Siberia to merge skiing and riflery into a pitched competition for tightly stretched resources, survival, and the Gold. Of course Germany is going to get supremely serious about sweeping; about becoming the fastest, most precise sweepers in all northern Europe. Is anyone surprised? When your forebearers had nothing to do but get through the winter, your national pastime is bound to be a marriage of ennui and endurance. It’s both hilarious and terrifying to see the neck veins throbbing over this, but oh, how they throb.
- The tantalizing promise of online streaming: Last year’s games were the first ones available on live-stream and I think we can all agree that watching them was made infinitely more enjoyable by finally breaking the myriad codes NBC set to lock them from those of us who don’t subscribe to basic cable. NBC knows you love a challenge—that’s why you’re watching the Olympics.
- The puzzling and somewhat affirming fact that Norway isn’t that good at winter sports. But what they lack in snow sportiness, they more than make up for in curling pants. They are *very* good at curling pants.
- The Jamaican bobsled team! And the commercial-like bids to be taken seriously as competitors they were afforded during the late night broadcast. AND the thought of viewers around the globe lifting and kissing boiled eggs in unison when bobsled time actually came.
- Speed-skating: I experience very real and very clammy stress watching these precariously angled athletes zoom around the rink in their way-too-tight packs. Korea’s blades almost grazing Finland’s nose. The blood bath that always seems just barely avoided when one skate slips slightly off course and a competitor tumbles out of the race. My breathless amazement that a wayward slice never takes so much as an eye out, much less a face off. The way my mouth goes stickily dry as all my body’s moisture seeps into my sweat glands and out my armpits—it’s human spectacle all around.
- When the commentators occasionally tire of watching the slower sports and shift their gaze and speculative flair to the crowd, as in 2014’s women’s curling match between Switzerland and China, in which the announcer directed America’s attention to the “rather gnome-ish” bearded man just trying to blend with the rest of the audience. His dwarfish appearance was apparently more arresting than the heartbreak unfolding on the ice. For everyone but me, I guess. But good to know you can still gain fame and glory, even in the stands. Even if it’s for your uncanny resemblance to Gimli.
I miss it all—the sheer majesty of a well-trained body; the transcendent glory of the win and the emphatic, life-stomping defeat; those Everest-high stakes that drive unassuming girls in sparkly tutus to commission bone-crushing hits on their teenaged teammates; the adrenaline that propels us to sweep faster than we’ve ever swept before, dream bigger than we’ve yet dared. In the middle of a sloshy New York winter, I need this kind of inspiration. I think we all do. So I’m not going to let this die. I’ll be here, doing calisthenics in my bobsled suit and counting down the days ‘till Korea, playing the Olympic theme song on repeat to drown out the sound of my tears.