Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympics: Day 4

One of the eternal arguments of the Olympics is, how do you improve them. It's a ripe argument to have: the location changes every time, every host has its own unique set of issues to tackle (in Vancouver's case, primarily the weather), and with such a variety of cultures and sports and competitiveness and familiarity with same, and a host of other aspects of the Games, everyone's going to have their own vision of what the Olympics should be.

That, and the fact that the argument really only happens once a year or so: when the Games get awarded to a new city, and when the Games are actually happening.

And if you think I'm shying away from this argument, you're nuts.

*The events are largely fine. By and large, my definition of an Olympic sport is whatever the IOC says it is. There are some things to consider- is the sport athletic enough, is there enough international parity to make it not be a free gold medal for one particular country, is there at least some kind of objective criteria, is the sport widely enough practiced, is Olympic gold valuable enough to the competitors- but by and large the IOC catches these things in the planning stages to my satisfaction. There are some events that are, shall we say, less fitting than others- race walking, trampoline, etc.- but there you go.

With baseball and softball off the Summer program, and golf and rugby on, my major concerns are addressed. The host nations usually couldn't figure out what was going on- Greece only had a couple baseball fields in the entire country when the Olympics were awarded to them- and now that they have the World Baseball Classic, the baseball people seem largely content. But if I was taking aim at something, I'd first go after rhythmic gymnastics, as anything that has a standardized automatic deduction if your bra strap is showing is not exactly something you should be considering as an Olympic sport. Of the non-Olympic sports recognized by the IOC, sport climbing is something I'd put in. They used to have that in early versions of the X Games, but not anymore. I might also swap martial arts and trade taekwondo for karate, but that's really only because nobody watches taekwondo anyway.

As for Winter, ice dancing has to go. I'm not a figure skating fan, but at least it has, you know, athletic elements. Ice dancing is what happens when you take figure skating and remove everything requiring athletic ability. It's the Winter equivalent of dressage. (That's the part of equestrian where the horse prances around without actually running or jumping over anything.) There isn't really much of anything you can replace it with, but my best pick would be speed skiing, a demonstration sport in Albertville 1992. This involves you, a lot of crash-absorbing stuff attached to you, a pair of skis, and a 1-km straight shot downhill with nothing in your way. Fastest guy wins.

The world record is 156 mph.

*Open up the TV coverage. The complaint I'm seeing more than anything else has to do with the coverage, particularly from NBC and the Tape Delays from Hell. If I'm the IOC, I want my as many of my events as possible shown live to as many people as possible.

Now, every country gets a neutral global feed that they can then cut and splice and add commentary to at their leisure. I put that feed on the main Olympic website free for all. The local networks would simply bid to be the local carrier. They can then do whatever they want with it. But people shouldn't be prevented from seeing an event entirely just because it's not as photogenic as the others.

*Every nation is entitled to at least one athlete, no questions asked. Tonga attempted to qualify an athlete these Olympics, luger Bruno Banani, but he crashed in qualifying. If it's me, I let him in anyway. I make a spot for him. I let Tonga fly their flag, let the guy have his Olympic moment. Functionally, all I do is add one more no-hoper to the lineup. But ideally, it shouldn't be about that. You have to have standards, yes, but at the end of the day, it's about coming together as a planet for two weeks. If that means I have to find places for a few guys who can barely ski or swim and are only hoping to finish their race, so be it.

*Don't award the Games as an encouragement to the host to be a nicer country. That never works. Once the Games are underway, we put politics aside. In the awarding phase, though, you do need to take it into account. How likely is that nation to ignore the outreach for brotherhood and use the Olympics for propaganda purposes? Moscow did, Beijing did, Berlin sure as hell did. Even Los Angeles (which Moscow revenge-boycotted) did to a degree; the 1984 Games were the catalyst that kicked off the ever-escalating cauldron lighting one-upsmanship. You don't award the Olympics to countries in the hopes that they'll become nice. You award them to countries that are already nice.

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