In 1972, I was a nine-year-old sports maniac, and for the first time in my young life, something called the Olympics jumped onto my radar. Every four years! Every sport imaginable! The Munich Summer Games somehow burned themselves very deep into my memory, so that names like Lasse Viren, Dave Wottle, and Valeriy Borzov are more familiar to me than where I last put my keys. (Skipping over, of course, the even more memorable Spitz, Korbut, and Rigby, and the terrible tragedy of the Israeli team.) I remember leaping with joy when Sugar Ray Seales won a gold in boxing, and learning a hard lesson about fairness (or the lack thereof) when our basketball team was robbed by the Soviet-friendly referees. Say what you will about the Communists, but they knew how to rig a game.
And about the 1972 Winter Games, held in Sapporo, Japan, I remember… exactly nothing. I assume I watched them. Using my friend the Internet to refresh my memory, I see the name Ard Schenk (three golds in speed skating) and feel a vague sense of recognition. (His name is fun to say in a pirate voice, if you have a moment.) But no event, no athlete, no moment, or venue is at all memorable. As the 2006 Winter Games open in Torino (C’mon, it’s Turin! We love your Shroud!) one might ask, why would that be?
Actually, one, I’m glad you asked. It’s simple. The Winter Olympics are crap. Especially if you’re a sports fan. You know you’re in trouble when the best sport coming your way is hockey. No offense to hockey–I like the game, and I spent some great times at the Los Angeles Forum watching Wayne Gretzky, a man whose play and reputation is…(The preceding sentence interrupted by this breaking news.) And of course, the 1980 Lake Placid “Miracle on Ice” is one of the greatest sports moments in history. But the fact is: The lineup of events in the Winter Olympics is an insomniac’s dream. Get this, sports fans: There is an event called curling in which the principals play a kind of ice shuffleboard and sweep the ice with brooms. Brooms! Maybe that’s why Canada is better at it than the U.S.–we switched over to vacuums years ago.
Now I won’t take anything away from ski racing. If you saw Franz Klammer in Innsbruck in 1976 win the gold in the men’s downhill, you know that skiing can be pretty cool. He more fell down the mountain than skied it. But there’s also slalom racing, and lots of talk about wax, and that gets pretty dull. There’s speed skating, which comes in different varieties, and ski jumping, which are all basically a snooze. I guess you could enjoy them on a NASCAR-like “hope for a crash” level, but unless it’s the “Agony of Defeat” guy, even the wipeouts aren’t that good. (The “Agony of Defeat” guy’s name is Vinko Bogataj, and of course his fall didn’t happen at the Olympics. Also, his name is almost impossible to say in a pirate voice.)
The only other event I am prepared to say anything good about is the biathlon, which combines quite seamlessly the unlikely pair of skiing and shooting a high-powered rifle. Skiing plus guns, like Mister Pibb plus Red Vines, equals crazy delicious. I remember hearing once that they have to shoot between heartbeats. You have to admit that’s cool. (I can’t do anything between heartbeats, except perhaps lose interest in this year’s Oscar nominees.) And so I will be watching, and I will be rooting for Erden Abdrakhmanov, if only in the faint hope that he is actually Borat from Da Ali G Show.
Then of course there is the main event, the competition that brings in the biggest audiences and the most sponsor dollars, the sport that made Dick Button a cause for schoolboy snickering throughout the land: Figure skating. Oh, how I hate figure skating. I just think that if you can compete in a tuxedo, it’s not really for me. A choreographer should not be part of an athlete’s entourage. Let’s be real for a second–there’s a Brokeback Mountain flavor to figure skating, except for Canada’s Elvis Stojko, who would do reasonably cool things like make his long program “A Tribute to Bruce Lee.” Double axel, triple Lutz; it’s just a disaster. But nothing like the disaster called “ice dancing,” in which figure skaters are encouraged to do less than usual, as the rules prohibit jumping and throwing and anything that might actually be entertaining.
Figure skating does bring in huge audiences, and of course, the ad revenues from broadcast TV make every Winter Olympics a rousing success. Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ran the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, and reportedly turned a nice $56 million profit. But will my 12-year-old remember 40 years from now the name Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the four-time gold medalist in biathlon? Actually, yeah–but only because it’s really fun to say in a pirate voice.
–Warren Bell is a 16-year veteran of the sitcom business (currently executive producer of ABC’s According to Jim) and a not-so-secret conservative.