Dear Salt Lake Nation,
I have been asked to fill you in on how the Winter Games are
playing outside of Utah. The answer is that they are playing
predictably unobtrusively. Those of us who covered the 2000
Games in Sydney often felt as if Australia were still a penal
colony and we were interned there, so generally disinterested
was the American populace in events Olympian.
Take Sunday's NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia. (Please!) At
one point courtside celebs Justin Timberlake, Jamie Foxx,
P-Diddy and the irritating guy who stars on NBC's Ed were all on
their cell phones at once, and I'm sure no one was recapping
that day's Nordic combined. I asked my brother-in-law, an
electrician in Pennsylvania, if his crew was talking luge.
"Nah," he said. "They're still replaying the Super Bowl."
Even the television coverage has been relatively quiet, NBC's
having replaced those syrupy personality pieces with actual
competition. There have been low points, of course, such as the
teases for the Daytona 500--there's crossover between cars and
curling?--and the discomfiting display of Today's Al Roker
nearly expiring as he wristed shots at a makeshift hockey goal.
(One word, Al: Treadmill.) All in all, though, it's been pretty
February 14, 2002
But, look, the restrained reaction to the Games is
fine--desirable, even--because we live in a culture so glutted
with opinions about sports. After said All-Star Game, half the
people I met told me that Kobe Bryant is a showboating gunner
who deserved the booing he got after he was voted MVP, and the
other half told me that Philadelphia is a town of troglodytes
who can't appreciate the grace of this fine young player. The
best thing about watching the Olympics from the outside is that
suddenly you find yourself among a citizenry that doesn't know
everything. At the gym two days ago, for example, I found myself
stretching next to a man who normally regales me with his
unfettered opinions ("Shaq stinks," "Iverson stinks," "Barry
Bonds stinks," etc.) but who on this day actually had a question
instead of an assertion.
"You think those lugers can see where they're going?" he said.
"I think they glance up every once in a while, but I'm not
sure," I answered.
"How about that German guy, eh? Five Olympics that guy's been
I like that people treat the Olympics with the wonder that
mainstream sports lack. It has become fashionable for those who
are not at the Games to bash them as overproduced spectacles,
preciousness raised to the nth degree and, worse, utterly
lacking in Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Britney Spears
tie-ins. But if the events in Salt Lake do not rise to the level
of watercooler conversation, well, know that they are being
discussed around the treadmill. And that seems just about right.