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RSVPhillippi | February 2018


Olympiad Nauseum

Normally I really, really hate the month of February. For one thing it is the only month that people regularly mispronounce. For another it is one of those stretches where there are no real holidays, so I never get a long weekend with my wife. Then there’s the Valentine’s Day deal. No one likes it. No one wants to celebrate it. Everyone agrees that it’s just corporate manipulation to sell cards and candy. And yet we still spend at least a few minutes thinking about how to acknowledge it before coming to our senses. If we are out on that night, we’ll see so many suckers with the flowers and the overpriced evening planned and it makes us feel sad. Superior, yes, but sad, too.  And worst of all, February is cold and dark. The days might be getting incrementally longer, but it’s still dark by dinner. And there may be days when it’s as warm as spring, but there will also be days on end when it’s just hat-wearing, nose-freezing, miserably cold. 

But this February is different — this February we have Winter Olympics. We have two solid weeks of getting to become instant experts on sports we have never watched, or at least, haven’t seen for four years. Added bonus, we get to use the word quadrennial. We only get to use the word quadrennial every two years.  

This year’s XXIII Olympic Winter Games are being held in PyeongChang, South Korea. I just took a moment to look up PyeongChang, South Korea and it is best known as the host of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games. Other than that distinction it’s basically a big ski resort uncomfortably close to the northern border of South Korea, which, as you probably put together for yourself, is uncomfortably close to the southern border of North Korea. Those wacky kids in North Korea have been making quite a game of lobbing ballistic missiles into the Pacific Ocean to see how far they can throw one. They’ve gotten far more than enough hang time to toss one to PyeongChang, but we’re going to pretend that’s not a concern.  Please God don’t let this column be in any way prescient.  

The detractors of the Winter Games all seem to have the same beef — the sports, with the exception of hockey, are all kind of silly.  Most of the sports in the Games are really just gravity in action. If you put someone on a pair of slippery skis on a slippery snow-covered mountain, they are going to go downhill very fast. If it were you or me, we would go downhill very fast  — cartwheeling and praying for a merciful death. But these highly trained athletes have mastered going downhill very fast without falling on their head. Still. No gravity, no Giant Slalom. The same is true, of course, for all downhill skiing events. If you put someone on skis and push them down a hill towards a big ramp. They are going to jump.  Or die.  Either way, they’re going off that ramp. 

From what I understand, the main objective in bobsledding is not hitting the brakes. They’re rocketing down a tube made of ice and all they have to do is not deliberately slow down. There is no reason for them to do so, there are no obstacles. If they really want to pep this one up have someone in a clown suit occasionally pop up. If they slam on the brakes trying not to hit Pennywise, then they lose ... and we win.

The only difference I can see between the Luge and the Skeleton is which one is going to get to the bottom head-first and which one feet first. Personally I’d opt for the feet first because I try to avoid unnecessary head injuries.

I’m sure that the snowboarding stuff is very, very challenging, but not nearly as challenging as trying to remain interested in watching it.  People in baggy ski clothes go up and down the sides of a big snow trough, flipping and turning and making announcers who don’t get to cover any other sports scream themselves hoarse. The most efficient way to get me to tune out is to show some teenager with purple hair doing pretty much anything other than setting themselves on fire.

There’s no question that speed skating requires tremendous athletic ability. There’s a reason why they have thighs the size of whiskey barrels, but being a rodeo clown requires great athleticism too, and I don’t find that interesting either.

The two Winter Games sports I find the most hypnotic are the biathlon and curling. The biathlon combines two things that were clearly destined to be together, cross-country skiing and target shooting with an air rifle. I kid, but during the games I will become totally enraptured by the biathlon, engrossed in their ski times and breathing while shooting. There was a time when the biathlon used actual rifles, but that was deemed as a health hazard as the occasional biathlete would express homicidal thoughts towards the ski jumpers.  “Such easy targets they would make,” they were heard to mutter.

Curling is by far the fan favorite during the Winter Games because it combines the things that make us sports fans rabid — it’s weird and it looks like something we could do. Watching the fierce competitiveness of a person sliding a rock the size of a microwave oven towards a target while another person literally sweeps the ice in front of it to speed it along is every bit as compelling viewing as figure skating, without the risk of having to watch grown men cry.

The Russians are banned from the Winter Games because they got all dopey, and I, for one, will miss them. Not because they lifted the level of competition, but because it would’ve been fun to watch PED bulked up curling.