Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

What Have We Learned?: Sochi Edition

And so the 2014 Winter Olympiad has come to a close. Its latter half happened to coincide with my school vacation week … which meant that all those pie-in-the-sky thoughts about how productive I could be went straight out the window (in the manner of movie heroes, which is to say with a battle cry and a shattering of glass). “What’d you do on your week off?” Olympics, and naps. Period.

And, as many of my Facebookian friends noted (with varying degrees of sarcasm), I couldn’t seem to accomplish the sports-watching part of vacation without expressing myself on social media.

And now that the Fortnight is concluded … time to assess. Here I offer my badly incomplete list of answers to the question “What Have We Learned?”, using as circumstantial evidence a selection of my social-media contributions, snarky and otherwise…

[1] I am capable of holding to disparate ideas in my head at once. On the one hand, it’s yay sports! On the other hand … this set of Olympic Games had more baggage than a 767 cargo hold.

I hate that my Olympics-watching is going to have such constant and overwhelming subtext, this time ’round.”

NBC is walking the tightrope this fortnight… the Sports division needs these Olympics to get great ratings and so must sand down talk of controversy and stupidity that may occur… and the News division (if it’s still that) will have to report on it. All under one corporate roof. Hmm. Brown water or gold medals?”

I would hate to think that Bob Costas’ tantalizing open about spending air time on the controversies … might turn out to be a head fake.”

Here’s a weird one for you: given all the stories of brown water and roofless hotels, and even though so many of the Sochi photos I’ve seen appear to be in grayscale even when they’re color photos… I was relieved and weirdly comforted to hear John Williams’ and Leo Arnaud’s brass fanfares played correctly.”

[2] The Olympic community … or at least the community of Olympians … made effective commentary about the various Russian laws pertaining to our LGBT brothers and sisters. There was at least one American car commercial that contained small visual clues about just how much the world may be shifting in this regard. (Cynically, one could suppose that the ads were done by rather large corporations that perhaps were seeing which way certain winds were blowing and decided it was in their best business interest to give those winds a nod. Hey, whatever works.)

Prior to the Opening Ceremonies: “Just thinking of the possible musical accompaniment choices ahead tonight. So many great Russian composers. I can’t help noting Mr. Tchaikovsky’s, um, orientation.”

During the Opening Ceremonies, the German team enters Fisht Stadium wearing undeniably rainbow-hued warmup suits. “Because,” I noted with a gentle air of snark, “all those colors are in the German flag somewhere.”

[3] And speaking of which … the Parade of Nations is still my favorite part of any Olympic Opening Ceremonies. I love the Parade of Nations. So much can go wrong, and right, and not just in terms of national-team clothing choices.

Parade of Nations wooooooooo! (Thumping Euro techno soundtrack not so much wooooooo.)”

“I do intend to be something other than snarky, during this Olympic fortnight. So let me put it this way: I’ve discovered a circumstance in which I will appreciate NBC’s choice of background music. #EuroTechnoRave #makeitstop”

Bermuda! … … … shorts.”

Get me a closer look at the outfit of the Kazakhstan flagbearer. Intricate stuff. Neat.”

“All the Olympic Christmas sweater jokes have been done.” But, not long after that post … “I’m going to go right ahead and give the Ugliest Opening Ceremony Outfit Award to Team USA, even before seeing the remainder of the nations. Now that I’ve seen everybody who came in beforehand, it’s fair to wonder ‘who greenlit that project?’”

I would hate it if the country of my heritage marched in while NBC was in commercial. Especially if the whole Ceremony was *on tape delay anyway*. (Turkeys.)”

[4] My opinion of Russian president Vladimir Putin did not start out especially high, and over the course of the opening evening it did not improve. The longer the Opening Ceremonies went on, the more often the cameras cut to him, and the less I liked him.

Mr. Putin’s applause for athletes of Ukraine was … tepid. Compared wth, oh, everyone else in the joint. Hmm.” And then, shortly thereafter: “Oh. My mistake. Putin applauds for everyone like that. (‘Ho hum; you’re not ME.’)” … “With every new view of Vladimir Putin on the TV this evening, my admiration for him diminishes further. Sorry, all.”

Here’s the thing about all the protests against Russian policies about LGBT folks (uniform choices, sign waving, clever TV commercials, government leader absences, etc.): ultimately they have a chance to make a difference everywhere except the actual Russia… because *Putin doesn’t give a wet slap what you think.* That is his real ‘schtick’.”

[5] NBC, by merely covering these Games, opened itself up to Media Criticism. Inevitably, whatever they did was going to be admired by some and detested by others.

I suspect NBC hired the same color commentator for cross-country skiing as it did for track and field. No need to shout and bellow, guy, no matter how hard a charge that racer is making. You have a microphone to help make it seem like *we’re right here next to you.*”

My only beef with Mike Emrick as a hockey play-by-play guy? Every shot, *every* one, is a potential overtime game winner.”

Biathlon (featuring staggered starts, therefore staggered finishes) announcer: ‘Garanichev is first across the line and he has the lead!!’ … I can well imagine.”

Maybe I’ve been watching at the wrong moments… but I have yet to see an actual medal ceremony. Is it just bad luck here?”

Today’s curling announcer is a more secure person than last night’s: he’s willing to suggest that some shots are good shots. Last night everything was a disaster and Announcer Guy wouldn’t have made *that* decision.”

Pretty high GE points for the NBC announcers Emrick, Milbury and Mlescko (sp?). They’re a hoot together.”

Different announcers for ice dancing tonight than earlier today. Lipinski and Weir were oddball fun, but whoever this is … is actually informative.” … “When Sandra Bezic is announcing the ice dancing… I feel like I’m *learning something* about the sport.” … “It’s not often– no, I take that back. I have never before agreed with every single thing a skating commentator says, all night long. Sandra Bezic makes total sense to me.”

Oh … yes … the actual athletic competitions.

[6] Some winter sports will not end well if I try them myself.

I just discovered another Winter Olympics sport that I would have zero aptitude for: slopestyle. Zero zilch nada.”

I don’t think I’d like to be *either one* of a luge doubles team.”

If I want to do seventy miles an hour on a downhill grade… I will also want a car around me. Have to admire these lunatic skiers.”

When I spin around and around and around, I get dizzy. Figure skaters and freestyle skiers and snowboarders appear not to. How IS that?”

[7] I renewed my attraction for ice dancing. (Not since Torvill and Dean, etc.)

Full disclosure: my dad was an ice dancer for a while.”

Why I like watching ice dancing but not so much regular figure skating: if figure skaters fall, it’s no wonder. If ice dancers fall, the world has ended.”

Goodness. The US ice dancing Shibutanis, cuurently (via tape delay) look Very Very Young.”

Maybe this is wishful thinking. But it looks as if these Olympic ice dancers actually, y’know, *like* each other.”

I know I’m supposed to be rooting for Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and I am. Go USA and all that. But Virtue and Moir are just too cute. Hee hee.”

So tonight we’re up to about ’47th Street’ and ‘Sing Sing Sing Sing Sing Sing Sing Sing Sing’, I think. Makes you appreciate [Davis and White’s short-program musical choice] ‘I Could Have Danced All Night’ that much more.”

Virtue and Moir ice-dance *close to each other* (i.e. how it’s supposed to be done) better than almost anybody. Bravo.”

Meryl Davis and Charlie White appear to be (gasp) actually having fun out there. Yay kids.”

‘Their temperament is a bit more… artistic,’ says Sandra Bezic of Virtue and Moir. What’s that a euphemism for, I wonder?”

[8] I still have what for many of my friends is an inexplicably dogged interest in the sport of curling. Which, admittedly, is a little like chess on ice.

Norway men’s curling: PANTS.”

US men’s curling captain John Shuster wasn’t exactly the Charlie Brown of the Vancouver Games four years ago… but he wasn’t far off it. Today… he got a win. And so begins the winning streak, yes?…”

US vs. Russia in men’s curling. The Russians are wearing these *pink paisley* disaster-area pants. C’mon, guys, you’re a lot of things but Norway you ain’t.”

One of the US curling women is this year’s oldest US Olympian. Age 45. Younger than I. #hadtohappensometime”

I never want to give any nice lady cause to yell at me with the force [with which] those curling women give each other advice.”

[9] Short-track speed-skating is just as nuts as I thought.

Small but crucial suggestion for next Olympics’ US speed skating suits. Aerodynamics aside… can we not have contrasting-color crotch panels? Looks like something important gave way.”

Oh yes, I remember now: the 5000-meter short-track relay race is the one that looks utterly, irretrievably *insane*.”

Short track speed skating seems an exciting but exceptionally cruel sport: train for four or eight years, and have it all taken away in half a second by the yahoo next to you who can’t keep *his* balance.”

[10] I already opined in this space about Bode Miller’s post-bronze-medal-winning-race interview experience. Later in the week, I had occasion to acquire a bit of perspective.

For the record, you gotta hear Christin Cooper comment on the *actual skiing*. She knows her business and can point out details that’ll teach you something new.”

[11] The earning of a silver medal, in certain Olympic activities, requires an individual or more often a team to be great for most of two weeks, and then to have their final act be a defeat. With regard to the US women’s hockey team, yes, you will see an equally dejected bunch of athletes – every time anyone loses the gold-medal match in anything. Whether that match featured controversy or not.

Give credit to Canada… down 2 goals with 3:30 to go, and they didn’t give up. Also be honest… that was two separate [Canadian] 5-on-3 power plays in the same *overtime* period… in the *gold medal* game. Words may indeed fail me.”

[12] Not long after that, I found myself watching medal-round matches and pulling for (in no special order) the US hockey women and men, the Great Britain curling men, and the Swedish curling women. And I began to sense a pattern. They all lost. To Canada.

Advisory to all participants in Winter Olympic team sports: if I root for you, you … are … doomed. (Just so we’re clear.)”

[13] Apparently, nothing happened during the Sochi Games, in spite of my early worries about security and geopolitical matters (read: terrorists) and such, to disrupt the competitions and other events. Certainly nothing that rose remotely to the level of the horrible days of the Munich summer games in 1972. Assuredly the NBC coverage showed none of the protests that were reportedly occurring in and near Sochi. But …

This has nothing (at this time) to do with political leanings. Just a question: I wonder what it would be like to be a Ukrainian athlete at the Olympics right now?”

NBC did not follow through on its promise to spend significant air time on the various controversies that surrounded the Sochi games. But they did take one moment, late in the Fortnight, to note that while the Games had gone on as planned, security-wise, they wondered whether the competition had really fully rid itself of the spectre of the still-repressive nature of the Russian government and its laws and policies: “Interesting to listen to Bob Costas ‘poke the bear’ a little bit there.”

[14] But through all the political controversy, and all the speechifying full of platitudes about international sportsmanship and cooperation that are set to rest by even one silver-medal-winning skater grousing about the judging or the coaching or the ice conditions or something, … I find that Olympic competition is great for at least one reason: with the not-insignificant help of the home-country media, one can discover (or be helped to discover) athletes whom one otherwise would never have heard of, whom one may find admirable. During the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, China, for me it was US crew coxswain Mary Whipple. In Sochi last week, it was unquestionably the US’ youngest gold-medal-winning skier, Mikaela Shiffrin – a stable and humble head on her shoulders, and two very slippery skis beneath her.

Glad to see that puff piece about Ms. Shiffrin, before she rocketed her way down the hill just now. Seems like a decent kid.” … “And in a post-race interview she makes a *funny*. Dang.”

Two years to Rio. In the wake of which we will probably not see all the “low-income housing” areas of town on the teevee coverage, but we’ll probably end up watching the whole thing anyway. I want to say something like, “and that’s okay,” … but it certainly won’t be.

This world is no more or less complex or controversial than it was in 1972 Munich, or 1968 Mexico City, or 1936 Berlin. But this much is true nonetheless, I think: Games like this can create opportunities for athletic people to parlay years of training (often accompanied by great personal and financial sacrifice) into Great Moments in their lives, whether they win gold or just skate in the rink.

[15] That, at least, is enjoyable to see.

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February 25, 2014 - Posted by | blogging, civil rights, current events, entertainment, Facebook, Famous Persons, government, Internet, media, politics, social media, sports, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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