In years past, I've had a curmudgeonly attitude toward the Olympic games. The 2008 spectacle in Beijing held little interest for me and I'm proud to say that I barely watched any of it. But as the 2010 Winter Games get set to kickoff in Vancouver tomorrow, I've come to realize that I don't despise the Olympic in general as much as I despise the Summer Games. I'm actually looking forward to the games in Vancouver and may even--stop the presses--watch some of the opening ceremonies.
This partly stems from the season. I've usually got better ways to spend my summer nights than watching pre-pubescent girls tumbling and somersaulting about in hopes of securing high scores based on subjective judging. However, here in the doldrums of dead winter, options--especially outdoor ones--are limited. Now that the Super Bowl is behind us and March Madness still a month out, we've entered the horse latitudes of the sports season as well.
The other reason for the attraction is the games themselves. I start off with an obvious bias toward the Winter Games because of hockey. Even though it's become more competitive since the Dream Team days, Olympic basketball still isn't all that compelling. It's going to come down to the US versus one of two or three other countries who can play at that level. Hockey by comparison features a far more wide-open field. The professional talent is much more evenly distributed between the countries. Consider that at Turin in 2006, Canada and the United States finished seventh and eighth respectively. That's correct: Canada finished in SEVENTH place.
This year, the Canadians will have home ice (on an NHL sized rink), but also all the pressure that comes with it. Russia, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia all have great players and it wouldn't be a shock to see any of those teams win the gold. The US squad has finally transitioned to the next generation of players and if the young guns step up and if they get good goaltending, they could be reach the medal round. It should be a great tournament and it will be nice to be able to actually watch most of the key contests live.
But it's more than that. Whether it's speed skating, downhill skiing, luge or bobsled the Winter Games are just more fun to watch than their Summer counterparts. The activities feature more speed, better wipeouts, and often with the added natural elements to deal with. Heck, I'd rather watch the biathlon over most of the track and field events at the Summer Games.
The only downside to the Winter Games is also the event that will likely prove to be the most popular: figure skating. Whenever I come across some sequined toe-picking ninny prancing across the ice I always think, "What a waste. There could be a hockey game going on instead." Figure skating is the gymnastics of the Winter Olympics and I plan to watch as little of it as possible.
Luckily there are plenty of other real sports taking place in and around Vancouver over the next seventeen days to keep me busy. Let the games begin.