The Olympic Games have always been a
funny concept. The entire world decides that, for a few weeks every few years,
we’ll care about all the sports we never otherwise watch.
This is especially true of the the Winter
Olympics, which broadcasts bobsledding, curling, and biathlon across
the globe. From the comfort of our couches we are captivated by Scandinavians
skiing and shooting rifles, and by men pushing rocks around ice and sweeping
frenetically in front of them. Host nations spend untold billions on
fanfare and new infrastructure to show the world how wealthy they are, and then
spend the ensuing decades trying to figure out what to do with all the stadiums
and domes and half-pipes and condo complexes.
This year’s Sochi Olympics have
been the topic of much conversation. I’ll admit that I have not seen a single telecast of the Games—and, from the sound of it, neither have most of my peers.
Instead of a sporting event, the 2014 Winter Games are a prime reminder of the changing world
order. I don’t mean China’s emergence as an economic powerhouse or that Russia
has ceased using “missing” warheads as its chief source of income, but rather
the way in which we consume and interact with the Olympics.
Instead of medals,
we talk about athletes with the funniest tweets or best Buzzfeed articles about
epic Russian fails. I have no idea which nations are contenders for medals,
but even my luddite interests are well aware of the American who broke through
his locked bathroom door and the incredible rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” by the
Russian Police Choir.
I am the kind of person who can
find serious merit in most every sport ever invented and who, after 15 minutes of careful observation, will yell and groan at the TV as drama unfolds between Papua New Guinea and Finland on the skeleton course. Yet I
have not seen any of this year’s games; nor have I felt compelled to seek them out.
Though I am far from a social media mogul, I recently tweeted, “does anyone go
to sports bars to watch the Olympics? #Sochi2014,” and I know far more about Bob
Costas’ eye debacle from my favorite comedians’ online commentary than I do about
any serious implications of the games. It takes
but a cursory scroll through your social media newsfeed of choice to see a
smattering of links to various internet interest stories coming out of Russia’s
All of this gets at a serious
change in the way the world works. This shift is not unique to the Olympics,
but these once-every-four-years games happen as infrequently as presidential
elections and create a similar sort of flashbulb memories. Most of us associate the Games with family time spent on the couch with hot chocolate and blankets
and intense emotional investment in people we hadn’t heard of 20 minutes
prior. I remember when the Olympic rings were good branding on Kodak film boxes
and Coca Cola cans, and when you couldn’t spoil tape-delayed outcomes by opening
MSN, Yahoo!, or Facebook. Then came the spoilers, but not quite the intense
focus on random athletes’ bylines we have now.
With the advent of Twitter and
Instagram, we have been invited to get overly personal with the most random of lives.
Pictures of hilariously lost-in-translation things, like two toilets sitting two
feet apart with no discernible partition between them, become more iconic than
photo-finish downhill ski races or athletes’ tear-soaked faces after victories and defeats.
These easily consumable
nuggets of information hold relatable appeal to those of us with minimal television access but handheld internets ceaselessly blinding us from point-blank range. We find ourselves engrossed with
athletes’ late-night munchies and early-morning hypnogogic searches for their
events. But we stop there. It’s almost irrelevant how they fare as long as
they post something entertaining later that day.
With American snowboarder Jamie
Anderson revealing in an interview that “Tinder in the Olympic Village is next
level,” we can only imagine how much more personal those random encounters are in the
Village. New Zealand snowboarder Rebecca Possum Torr tweeted, “Can’t wait to
tinder in the Olympic village in Sochi 😛 😛 😛 :P,” leading to questions about
snowboarders’ lifestyle choices and about how athletes from different sports fared in their usage of the app. Though we cannot extend our personal Tinder ranges to
6911 miles to join in the fun, everyone has that friend whose experience with
the app leaves little to the imagination.
The wonder of the Olympics is
that they bring the world together—disparate nations competing for a common
goal, dozens of languages represented on one screen at one time, athletes of
otherwise-irrelevant sports consuming 100,000 condoms in 16 days. Though the wistful nostalgia of my childhood when Kodak moments were
still a thing has been replaced by instantaneous Instagrams live from Russia,
not all is lost.
While there may be less focus on the competitions themselves, there is a more intimate connection with complete strangers who have worked their whole lives to get to
these two weeks. It’s rare that I argue in favor of the Internet in any
capacity, and I’m not sure if I’m even doing that now, but if you can’t turn on
a TV and watch a bunch of people jump on skis like flying squirrels, at least
you can see what they had eaten for breakfast the morning before.
John Montesi CM ’14 is a literature major from Fort Worth, TX.