August 13, 2008

Olympic Fever... Catch It!

Becki and I have been watching a shedload of Olympics coverage the past few days. This is very uncharacteristic for me, as I don't watch a lot of sports in general, and certainly not those featuring people, teams, or sports with which I am unfamiliar. But, the last few days, I've been glued to the TV for hours every night. Actually, I've been glued to the TV for hours every night for many years now. But, I'm glued to the TV watching Olympics every night now.

I watched the 1980 Winter Olympics, saw Eric Heiden win all his medals, and then desperately wanted to be an Olympic speed skater when I grew up. In 1984, I watched a lot of the LA Olympics, but I think that was mainly because I was a kid, there was nothing else on TV, and it coincided with a huge promotion at McDonalds that gave free food if the US won a medal in the event listed on your game piece (or something like that).

I didn't really watch any of the 1988, or 1992 Olympics, nor the 1994 Winter, nor the 1996 Summer. I saw none of the 1998 or 2000 Olympics. And even though the 2002 Olympics were in my backyard, and I even went to one of the medal ceremonies, I saw nothing on TV beyond the opening ceremonies. Everything since my first kid was born is a blur in my mind, so I can't remember whether I saw any of the 2004 or 2006 Olympics, but I'm guessing not.

So, with a long history of Olympic apathy, why am I so interested in it this time out? That's a very good question. I'm glad I asked.

I've thought a lot about it, and narrowed it down to two factors. One, is just the quality and quantity of the TV coverage. On DirecTV, there's something like 9 or 10 channels that cover the Olympics, 8 of which are in HD. I've watched a lot of crap that I otherwise would never consider watching just because it's in HD, and maybe some of the Olympics fall into that category. Either way, I'm just fascinated by the ability to get both tuners on the DVR recording two different channels, then scan through them while two more chunks record.

Although I didn't watch any of the 1992 Olympics, I was a big fan of the concept of the NBC Olympic TripleCast, a pay-per-view package of three channels of 24 hour Olympic coverage. If you like watching the Olympics, that really seemed like the way to go. Nowadays, with all these channels, and the VOD replays available, and the internet coverage, the TripleCast almost seems quaint.

So, massive availability always draws me in, just like I'll always eat more than I should at a buffet, even if the food is crap. But, I think the real reason I'm watching so much is that I got suckered in by the opening ceremonies.

We have a Chinese student living with us right now, so we were obligated to watch the opening ceremonies with him anyway. But, after hearing just how much money and effort was spent on putting them together, I was intrigued to see what they would actually pull off. It was really stunning, for lack of a better word, and I was hooked from the first fireworks blast.

Dear Chinese Olympics opening ceremonies,
I was blown away by your massive floor TV, your flying people, your lit up people, your bouncing up and down printing block people, and your running sideways on the Death Star people. But, you had me from insanely massive pyrotechnics.

The opening ceremony was really representative of a lot of things, but mainly representative of what you can accomplish in the singular focus of a totalitarian society. The massive transformation of Beijing in the last few years is another testament to that. I guess that means the one thing we can all look forward to after Russia's current return to totalitarianism is a really kicking Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.

Much has also been written about how this was China's big coming out to the West, but I think it's a little more than that. It's more like China's big spectacle to kick off their upcoming domination of everything: all Olympic sports, economics, world military power, whatever.

So, I've watched a lot. I watched rowing for two straight hours the other day. I've watched what seems like a dozen hours of swimming. I've watched badminton, whitewater rafting, boxing, a lot of gymnastics, volleyball, and a lot of stuff I can't remember. I've seen some pretty cool things too. The amazing come from behind US victory in the 4x100m men's freestyle relay was really cool to see. I've seen tons of records broken in swimming, which is kind of old hat since everyone's wearing that crazy new suit now. But, I saw a cool pair of races where one guy broke another guy's record, and the other guy broke it back in the next race. I watched an entire USA-Australia softball game last night that ended up as a no-hitter.

But, I think my favorite parts are the ones where a commentator has been talking all day and has just given up on sounding professional and just starts to fill time. Those times come often with this level of coverage. Just yesterday I listened to the women's volleyball commentator rail on about how bad the USA team was, and how it was shameful that they're really dishonoring their coach by sucking so much. Beach volleyball has Karch Kiraly providing "analysis", and he's usually good for something stupid. Today, the play-by-play guy asked Karch why a particular athlete would be wearing a watch, trying to find out why she wouldn't take it off for the match. Karch replied by listing all the things a volleyball player would be able to do before the match if they knew what time it was. Basically answering that watches are good for telling time. Thanks, Karch.

No comments: