The Winter Games would have astounded the ancient Greeks.
It is not my intention to spoil your fun, but as claimant to the title of America’s curmudgeon-in-chief, vacant since the passing of Andy Rooney, this is what I think about the Winter Olympics: The arrival of the Games is about as much fun as waking up on a cold morning and facing the prospect of getting out of bed.
Do we really have to? Yes, we have to. The world’s media will have their feelings hurt if we don’t get with the program.
Every four years it is the same: We are reintroduced to athletic celebrities who, with some exceptions, have been celebrated more or less in private since we last made their acquaintance. They now pop up again like Punxsutawney Phil, the meteorologist groundhog, only this time predicting six more days of ice dancing.
As they often have to hurtle down mountains at 90 miles per hour for their 10 minutes of fame, I can’t say I begrudge them.
No, my problem is the lingering suspicion that the Winter Games are a sort of made-up, compensatory affair. They are like Take Your Daughter to Work Day becoming Take Your Child to Work Day. You have to include everybody or somebody will feel left out.
No doubt winter athletes were suitably frosted that it took 28 years for a winter version of the Games to appear after the Summer Games were revived in Athens in 1896. The Winter Games would have come as a surprise to the ancient Greeks, who competed in the nude. True, this tradition isn’t honored today, although women’s beach volleyball is doing its best.
That doesn’t change the fact that the ancient ones knew better than to compete in the snow.
The sports that make up the Winter Games are also a little suspect. You will note that they tend to be activities most people do for fun in the winter out of sheer boredom, not a sense of competition. People have skated for centuries, but originally when they leaped about in imaginative ways it was just called showing off, not a perfect 10 on the judges’ scorecards.
Not that figure skating isn’t a beautiful spectacle. It is just that some of us, old-fashioned reactionaries that we are, don’t think outfits and hairdos should play even the tiniest part in influencing who wins an athletic competition. When it comes to such skating, my view is that there’s nothing wrong with it that a puck and a couple of goals couldn’t fix.
For some of us, the bright line between real sports and artistic performances is lit by sequins.
To be sure, hockey isn’t the only real sport out there. Those alpine skiers are an intrepid crew and so are the sliders who climb aboard the luge, the bobsled and, worse yet, the skeleton. A normal person could not get on a skeleton without thinking that he might soon become one.
The epitome of made-up sports is curling. Let me just devastatingly observe: They use brooms in curling. Brooms should have no place in sports this side of witch racing. That just goes to show that the origins of that alleged sport were a bunch of guys playing on a pond when they should have been sweeping rocks out of their kitchens as their wives told them to.
If ordinary winter activities are going to be made Olympic sports, why stop there? How about making sidewalk shoveling an Olympic event? Riding inner tubes down slopes? Ah, Sochi! The fun starts this week. Get me out of bed when it is over.
Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune. Readers may send him e-mail at rhenrypost-gazette.com.
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