Olympic Medals: The Means to an End?

The United States has not met it's 2006 Winter Olympics Medal Expectations. It has been disappointing for athletes, coaches, friends, family, sports teams, Katie Couric, and the casual observers among us who tune into the Olympics every four years to watch the drama unfold and then go back to our usual program until the Olympic flame is lit once again.

Consider The United States Ski Team, self-described as "The Best In The World" has only won two gold medals, and Bode Miller has yet to win one.

Consider the Freestyle Ski Team has only managed one bronze in moguls when freestyle skiing was invented in the United States.

Consider Figure Skating where two Americans had a chance to win medals in the men's event and where Gold was Sasha Cohen's for the taking.

Consider Hockey, in which the extreme disappointment was written all over Captain Chris Chelios' face.

Consider Speedskating in which Chad Hedrick scored a Gold, Silver, and Bronze but was really gunning for five golds.

The list goes on and on and on. Among all the great stories of these Winter Olympics, it seems that Torino will be remembered more for underachievement than for Olympic Glory. And I have to ask: Why is that?

My stab in the dark is that it's because too much effort in the United States is put on hype. Politics are no longer a driving force in the Olympics. In our global community, viewers really don't get excited anymore about an US vs. THEM match. US vs. Canada, US vs. Russia, US. vs. Australia or Georgia or Israel or Turkey. There really isn't that much play in building up a fake rivalry anymore when none exists on the world stage.

It wasn't always this way, of course. During the time of Hitler the Olympic Games of Berlin were very much intended to be a showcase of German superiority. Of course, it backfired when Jesse Owens won an Olympic Gold Medal. And few Olympic Games epitomized the Cold War more than the 1980 Lake Placid Games when the US and USSR competed head to head in Hockey and Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were to compete head to head with 9-time World Champion Irina Rodnina in Pairs Figure Skating.

With the end of the cold war, politics has really faded away from the games as an interest driver. What remains is Madison Avenue's attempts to build rivalries or to create stories and drama out of nothing in order to drive viewership and advertising revenue. The biggest commercials airing during these Olympics are still commercials by VISA and Coke that feature Michelle Kwan. Somebody should really send a memo to NBC...Michelle Kwan is not a participant in these games.

So instead of politics, the media has created stories and hyped them to death, and to the point in which I believe they have been detrimental to United States athletes. Consider the following:
1. Sasha Cohen. Thank you Katie Couric, but have you really helped this young lady's confidence by asking her ad nauseum about her propensity to choke in a major competition?
2. Bode Miller. Yes, it's his own fault for talking the talk, but do all of his off the mountain exploits need to be covered like a presidential candidate on the campaign trail?
3. Jeret Peterson. Hype about the Hurricane. The most difficult trick in aerials. We all knew he was going to attempt it a week before the finals. Why couldn't we just back off and let him attempt it without adding the pressure of reminding him that it was the most difficult trick in aerials.
4. Hedrick and Davis. Without that handshake on the medals podium do you think either of them would be receiving any endorsement contracts? Talk about self-destruction.
5. Lindsey Kildow. Wasn't it enough that she still wanted to compete after that horrific fall during a training run? How would you like to see that footage over and over again if it happened to you? Don't you think it would get in your head?

The Olympic Games are the most amazing spectator event in the world, but for the athletes, there is no bigger pressure cooker. Our media attempts to foster the slightest of hopes, inflate our medal chances, dwell on the most insignificant details or the most unsportsmanlike behavior and create real distractions for the athletes who are out there just trying to do their best. It's scrutiny that very few can really thrive in. I'm thinking maybe Madonna and Bill Clinton who are masters of media manipulations.

It's a shame that we really need to be our own worst enemy. All I know is that I was rooting for Fabris in the 1500 m over Hedrick and Davis because they were being anything but Olympian. And as for Hockey, I just stopped caring. I'm from Detroit and I'm a Detroit Red Wings fan. Red Wings were on the US, Canadian, Swedish and Russian teams. I guess I'm rooting for Sweden because I'd like Nick Lidstrom to win a Gold Medal. Contrast that with 26 years ago when the whole country was rooting for the US over Russia in the Miracle on Ice. The two experiences just don't compare.

Today it's all about media exposure and hype and possible endorsement deals. Sasha Cohen lost millions when she fell on her triple lutz to start her long program Thursday night. Hedrick and Davis lost millions by feuding and not living up to the five gold medal hype. Bode Miller lost millions by not delivering what was expected. Ah well, there's always Season 6 of The Apprentice. Maybe Hedrick or Jeret Peterson will get selected for the show and have a shot to work for The Donald. Both of them are in the running, and in Hedrick's case, I think he would fit right in.

Thanks for reading.


jane said...

I love the summer Olympics. Winter Olympics, I like the women's figure skating & also enjoyed snowboarding. The biggest problem this year is the time differences.
Also, after hearing the struggles of the Russian & Turkish figure skaters, how could one not want them to skate perfectly? It didn't seem like a country vs. country thing, it seemed more like a desire for a personal victory for them.
If we ever thought nobody was on our playing field before, boy have we been proven wrong!

February 24, 2006 7:17 PM
Jetting Through Life said...

Great site! Love the backround!!


February 24, 2006 9:30 PM
Dramedy Girl said...

I too love the summer Olympics more than winter. Definitely endorsements put even more pressure on the athletes. I guess one of the things I like about Bode is he goes out to have fun. Getting a medal - cool. Not getting one -- oh well.

Responding to your post on my blog. I live in the Martinsburg area of WV -- quite a ways from N & G. Do you work for an outfitter during 'the season'? I have friends that have rafted that 5 or 6 years straight. Well, this year they took a break, but they loved it. And before you ask, I get invited, but I have a phobia about water I cannot see through. If I were to fall out, I would freeze up and panic. :o) So really, that's not the place for me. LOL

February 24, 2006 10:33 PM
utenzi said...

Come on, Matt. We never do well in the Winter Games. It's track and field where we win big.

My biggest disappointment was how ugly the medals are. You'd think Italy--home of many of the sleekest designed consumer goods--would have better looking jewelry for the athletes to carry home.

February 28, 2006 8:24 PM

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