Every two years, I shudder.
Not because a goose just walked over my grave. Because it's time for the Olympics.
And the Olympics are awful.
You know they're coming because you start hearing stories. It's a just a pitter-patter at first, like the little ripples in the water cup in Jurassic Park, but anyone paying attention will notice a slight increase in boring, repetitive human interest stories.
Then, all of a sudden, it's time. Now there's a boatload of guys and girls you've never heard of being thrust, literally forced, into the national conversation. We're told that they now matter. Most of them participate in events that no one likes; almost all of them are faceless nonentities. They might as well have popped out of a player creator in a video game.
And many people blindly cheer for them. Because they're supposed to, I guess. Because "tradition" dictates that you should.
What's easy to ignore, though, is that "tradition" often goes hand in hand with "old-fashioned" and "obsolete."
The Olympics are an outdated concept. I understand that they used to be a grand spectacle, bringing everyone together for a few weeks of seemingly random sporting events. But now there's very little need to bring everyone together, besides the fact that they've been doing it for hundreds of years. The world is more connected than ever. Teams and athletes from different countries face off all the time.
And the world's best athletes are already on our televisions every night. You can watch soccer matches featuring players from a handful of different countries; the NBA has become a massive global entity. I'm pretty sure people run races against each other and swim against each other all year, but nobody watches that shit. Because it's boring, or because it "doesn't matter." I think things matter as much as you make them, though, and the real issue that no one actually cares. They just think they should when it's branded as "THE OLYMPICS."
They hop right onboard with the idea of cheering like robots "for our country." And its fine, brave athletes. But who are these people? Why am I cheering for them? Because we're all Americans?
I love America, but I certainly don't like all Americans. This is generally a healthy notion; few people are buddies with everyone.
That's not how it works at the Olympics, though. Sports are suddenly linked with all the good things in the world; things are great, everyone is equal. I've had people tell me that I should just enjoy it all. That I should find something to like about every shitty event, because it's "important."
"Important" is a word that gets thrown around a lot in regards to the Olympics. But what does that mean? Who decided that the Olympics are "important"? They do have history, yes, and Jesse Owens did some truly impressive things as a runner and a human 80 years ago. It's a grand stage, but one that's becoming increasingly arbitrary. Why are the Academy Awards the final word in appraising the year in motion pictures? "Because they are," right? Because someone created them a long time ago, and everyone knows them, and they have clout with everyday folks.
But that doesn't mean you have to respect their choices, or enjoy what they're feeding you. You have choices and options in this ever-expanded world. You have access to whatever kind of sports you prefer. If you like the Olympics, fine. But don't pretend like they genuinely matter. Or that I should, must, need to to watch them.
That's the worst part, and it also applies to other big events like the World Cup. People who love the Olympics, or think they love them, will get genuinely mad if you dislike them.
"You don't like the Olympics?! Why not?! Don't you like America? Don't you like sports?"
Well, why don't you like hockey? Or baseball? Or football? Or the other year-round sports that are played in many different places? I don't see the distinction that some people have arbitrarily created. Despite what they may think, there's no special pedestal that Olympics fans get to stand on, no soapbox from which they preach their precious pro-Olympic rhetoric.
You know who I like? Usain Bolt. Because he's charismatic and it's fun to watch him run really fast. But that's why I like him, not because he's "involved in something special." Because when he shows off his athletic ability, it's extremely impressive and it makes me happy. No one told me to feel this way; I decided it for myself.
I guess the other pro-Olympics argument is that everyone is "cheering for the spectacular," or something like that. So you mostly want the Americans to win, but you're also really pumped if some random guy from Russia jumps really high, or a lady from Antarctica throws a mighty javelin?
Again, my thoughts are that people perform amazing athletic feats all the time. If that intrigues you so, why are you limiting yourself to one three-week extravaganza every two years? You can probably find some high jumps or some javelin tosses to watch every now and then, and there's certainly a whole bunch of swimming and running accessible online or on television.
It goes back to the World Cup; I fully understand why it gets true soccer fans so excited. It's a legitimate spectacle, a worldwide tournament of stars who've earned the right to represent their countries in a grueling, epic event.
But again, "stars." "Tournament." "Epic. "Grueling." These are the things that make the World Cup great, not just the fact that it's happening. Plus, it's the culmination of years of effort. You get invested in these soccer players growing and maturing as athletes, and then they get their big stage. Everyone knows it's coming; the anticipation is allowed to grow naturally.
Because it's big and exciting and you look "plugged-in" and I guess "smart" if you're onboard, the World Cup still gets far too many bandwagon jumpers, folks who will ram it down your throat even if they don't actually like soccer. That can be annoying, but oh my god it is a hundred times worse for the Olympics. There is no buildup; it's just dropped in our laps, and we're expected to chow down. I remain amazed at how many people do just that.
Well, I'm not. I hate the Olympics, and I know I'm not alone. We're just not as unbearably vocal about it as the pro-Olympics crowd, and for that you should be thankful.
Enjoy your shitty event.