Before I begin, I understand that what I’m about to say will be a little controversial. You might not agree with me—in fact, statistically speaking, there is almost nothing I could write that we might all agree upon. If I said “Congress is doing a terrible job,” only 83 percent of us would be able to agree, based upon the latest polling.
But this is about the Olympics. I’m sorry, but I’m just not feeling it this year. Before you start hammering out an angry e-mail to my editor, or dialing “Sound Off,” just let me explain. In the past, the Olympics have been threaded with a narrative, stitched together with the storylines of American heroes and underdogs—our collective attention was laser-focused on Team USA.
There have always been those amazing “Olympic moments” of American exceptionalism. In 1984, we leapt from our chairs when Mary Lou Retton won the gold. In 1988, we watched Greg Louganis crack his head open, and then go on to win Olympic gold. In 1992, we breathlessly watched the Michael Jordan and the original Dream Team dominate. In ’96, it was Dominique Moceanu and the women’s gymnastics team that stole our hearts and captured our imagination in a tour de force that couldn’t even be overshadowed by the Olympic Park bombing.
Again, this year I’m just not feeling it. I’ve participated in all of the water-cooler conversations about which basketball team is better—this year’s, or the ’92 Dream Team. (The ’92 team.) I’ve followed Michael Phelps, as he tries to make Olympic history; and, to be perfectly honest, the Phelps story was better in Beijing.
So far the XXX Olympiad has felt like something you’d catch on ESPN2 in the middle of the night. Women’s field hockey, men’s fencing, judo, yeah, okay. Maybe it’s just that we haven’t seen this year’s big moment yet. Maybe I’m just not as engaged as I normally am.
I’m not suggesting that this year’s Olympians aren’t heroes; they are. I think the problem may be in the way the story has been told. A few months ago, a Facebook friend of mine posted, “How come no one’s talking about the Olympics? Aren’t they happening this summer?” Exactly. Before this year’s opening ceremony, we heard a little bit of talk about security, but almost nothing about the athletes. Olympic chatter was not as pervasive in the media as it has been in years past. The games sort of approached with a murmur, and have kicked off with a whirl of minor controversies.
First there was the security issue. The firm charged with providing security fell dreadfully short of its contractual obligations—and reports this week claim that cronyism may be to blame. Then there was the opening ceremony, which received lukewarm reviews despite its reported $42 million price tag. (We also learned this week that Paul McCartney received only £1, or $1.57, for his performance. So they didn’t splurge there.)
This week, a teen was arrested for sending a British diver death threats via Twitter. And speaking of Twitter, one independent reporter had his account suspended this week after he was critical of NBC’s coverage—and tweeted the email address of the president of NBC Olympics.
Perhaps my Olympic memories are too grandiose for this year’s games to match. Maybe I’m comparing this year’s Olympians to the greatest I’ve seen in my lifetime, and they just aren’t matching up. Possibly the stories aren’t being told as compellingly as they should be.
You can save your angry e-mails. Maybe my lack of enthusiasm for this year’s games lies solely in my unmet expectations—in which case the problem is mine, and mine alone.
Originally printed in “Pulse,” 08/02/2012.
© Damien Willis, 2012. All rights reserved.