Chances are, unless you’re a “number nerd”, your calendar isn’t counting down to 8.08.08, when the summer Olympic Games blast off at Beijing National Stadium. Props if you knew the Olympics were in China or knew they were approaching at all. Given that the United States biggest “frenemy” is hosting, chances are you’ll be forced to take notice.
China’s excitement over hosting their first Olympiad is palpable. The opening ceremonies, historically a four-hour snoozefest, figure to usher in the games with a campy, over-the-top extravaganza. [Think The Sound of Music meets The Brady Bunch Variety Hour] Organizers are commencing the ceremony at precisely 8:08 p.m. and eight seconds (on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008).
The Chinese, all 1.3 billion of them, are a proud people. Hosting the games provides them with the perfect propaganda opportunity to kick American ass in front of billions.
Who gives a crap about the Olympics anymore?
Medal counts and endorsement deals aren’t supposed to matter at the Olympics, an idealistic fortnight bringing together the world’s best and brightest. If you think the Olympic Oath is taken seriously, google “Olympics” and “controversy.” Despite being ethically questionable, the Olympics are the ultimate television event; a two-week-long Real World where game faces are on and the only smiles are the fake ones flashed at television cameras or given during interviews on The Today Show.
American athletes are taught to display “good sportsmanship” at all times. Michelle Kwan is an international icon for integrity and classy behavior. The figure skating legend has made a career out of attaining levels of political correctness political strategists salivate over. But Kwan is a boring soundbyte; and probably fake. Like the rest of America, Kwan hopefully dropped a few f-bombs after Tara Lipinski (known as “Terror” among the skating world) ear-piercingly screeched her way to the top of the media stand.
Luckily for NBC, international athletes are shipped to the games minus the shrink-wrap and prepared sound bytes. Female Russian athletes are notorious divas who never fail to maximize their fifteen minutes of fame. Unfortunately, Svetlana Khorkina no longer competes in gymnastics. The infamous “girl who looks like a duck” knew what viewers craved, and she certainly delivered. Khorkina announced at her 2003 Worlds post-victory press conference that silver medalist Carly Patterson did not worry her because she would “run to fat.” Patterson did gain weight, but only after emerging victorious in their close Olympic All-Around battle.
Khorkina symbolizes what is best about the games: Arrogant athletes being tested, vetted and humiliated before billions of viewers, while being followed by relentless paparazzi eager for the games to be their launching pad. (One can only imagine how much CBS paid the undisclosed cameraman who managed catching an exhausted and agitated Nancy Kerrigan mocking Oksana Baiul, the Ukrainian orphan who usurped her position as beloved ice princess.) Wide World of Sports began 30 years of weekly sporting broadcasts with the clichéd “thrill of victory and agony of defeat.” No one embodies this excitement better than Khorkina, who posed for Playboy, tore off her team silver medal on the award stand in Sydney, wept when organizers set the vault incorrectly, and draped the uneven bars with the Russian flag following her final Olympic performance.
NBC may be missing its Katarina Witt, but the peacock never fails to provide sensationalism to viewers. You probably stopped watching the games a long time ago; without trailer park ice queens clubbing competitors, you lack the urge to “TiVo.” Tonya and Nancy might’ve moved on, but that doesn’t mean you should. The Olympics are the ultimate reality show, with more cat-fighting divas, dramatic situations and unique personalities than can be accorded due media attention.
The Beauty of It All?
The Olympics, Jack MacFarland’s sports-watching heaven, inundate the media with stories of glitter, tears, confetti and corruption, and then vacate pop-culture faster than Britney Spears leaving rehab. So indulge! Need more convincing? Here are eight sinfully-delicious arguments for complete submission to the campiest two weeks to be encountered this decade (and some excuses to tell your friends).
1. Political Rivalries Turn Ugly
Utter ignorance aside, you’re probably familiar with a Lake Placid hockey team that crushed America’s cold-war rival in the ultimate international grudge match. China’s been a thorn in America’s economic arse since the mid-‘90s, and their government is gunning to kick American ass. Their government-sponsored sports system, modeled after the Soviet sports machine, is upping investments in order to ensure that the world will be “seeing red.” NBC, eager for a ratings slam-dunk, will exploit and over-plug all encounters between the U.S. and China when golden Olympic hardware is at stake. GE’s television suits want viewers to be cheering and jeering when gymnasts are bobbling on the beam. Does ”Battle of the Brians” ring a bell? How about “Battle of the Carmens?’ Try: gymnastics grudge-match of the century. China, the 2006 World Gymnastics Team Champions, are eager to rip the gold medals off the necks of the Americans who bested them this past summer. Think Kerri Strug ending four decades of communist gymnastics reign on American soil was a big deal? Imagine sucker punching the sport’s most talented team. The Chinese high five their way to victory, but it remains to be seen whether three-time world vault champion Cheng Fei will shed some serious tears.
Must See TV: A team showdown has not been this intense since the “Miracle on Ice.” China’s government expects gold and applies unyielding political pressure, but it’s been known to backfire. Their gymnasts are known for either delivering insurmountable performances, or for hemorrhaging when a team member manages the slightest crack. The Chinese men’s team has won all but one world title since 1994, but has only achieved victory at one of the past three Olympics during their reign. America’s top gymnast, Nastia Liukin, is the daughter of two soviet gymnastics legends and sports a bone-chilling “bitch face.” The American girls barely like their own teammates, so imagine the tension during team finals, when rowdy Chinese crowds want payback. Luckily for viewers, gymnastics’ MTV generation is much more attractive and socially aware than their wet-towel “Magnificent Seven” ancestors.
Tidbit: In the gymnastics community, “to Chinese” is a verb describing a type of mistake made by a stellar athlete who invariably cracks under pressure.
E.g.,: Paul Hamm had the title within his grasp until he “chinesed” his release move and ate the high bar. (To be used as a small side-bar next to the first bullet point’s justification)
2. Amanda Beard: Good Girl Gone Bad
At fourteen, the Atlanta Olympian brought her teddy bear atop the medal stand. Beard’s sultry spreads in Playboy, Maxim and FHM expunge any remaining visions of the animal-loving teenaged breast stroke dynamo. Following an Athens layoff, Amanda’s awaited answer to critics and jealous female onlookers will be center stage among Howard Stern’s cult following. Don’t expect Beard to shy away if Stern requests appearances. The wannabe model, who dates a photographer, is an unwavering attention whore.
Voice of Reason: Attractiveness aside, Beard’s affability wanes when you account for what an opportunist she is. Following the last two Olympic Games, Beard took two years off each time to pursue her burgeoning popular appeal. Her face will be everywhere, but make a mental note of any story about her that actually focuses on her breast stroke. Although her hubris has swelled, recent late night talk show appearances show her to be in good athletic shape. Beard now talks about staying in until 2012 because she “loves competing.” The Heff may be able to buy her implants, but can he buy her another gold medal? Defense of her 2004 world record is at stake.
3. Buzz worthy: Phelps Renews Quest for Record Gold Medal Haul
Second-string preliminary round-swimming pawns beware: don’t bother slipping into your Speedo if you’re susceptible to cracking under pressure. Michael Phelps means business. His 2004 quest to surpass Mark Spitz’s ’72-seven-gold-medal-haul ended because a preliminary round placeholder carelessly false started; disqualifying the Americans before their first stringers ever had a chance. Phelps’ recent stash of golden medals earned at world championships (six in ’05; seven in ’07) raises reasonable expectations that he’ll surpass Spitz. If that isn’t offering enough reasons for Phelps to lose sleep over, Speedo is once again dangling a $1 million reward.
Sports-broadcasting “Porn”: Forget the usual tape delays, NBC is airing
Phelps’ quest LIVE in primetime. NBC perpetuated international perceptions of
Americans by strong-arming the Beijing Olympic Committee to hold swimming
finals during the wee-morning hours. Be prepared for vociferous complaints
should Phelps be successful.
4. Recent Gymnastics Controversies Loom
Gymnastics’ “esteemed” governing body, in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee, manages to muck-up every Olympics. Whether the vault is set at the wrong height, or a beloved champion is stripped of her titles for being given a Sudafed by her doctor, reporters will be all over it. Paul Hamm is still trying to justify whether he rightfully won the 2004 Olympic All-Around title. News broadcasts had viewers debating whether or not “the Korean” had too many hand-holds on parallel bars.
Future Suspects: Results are going to be bitched about, so know your facts for the water cooler debates you’ll be having with coworkers. Note: The FIG, gymnastics’ governing body, is run by Bruno Grandi, friend and countryman of Ottavio Cinquanta. Ottavio, a.k.a. “Speedy”, is the speed skater turned International Skating Union president who engineered the “anonymous judging system” adopted by figure skating as a means of jettisoning future media scandals. The FIG followed suit, leaving casual viewers more confused than ever Grandi’s countrywoman, Vanessa Ferrari, benefits from the new judging system. Ferrari frequently finds herself a medalist in international events, despite ghastly form and execution. Ferrari was injured in ’07, but be on the lookout for suspect successes in the Olympic year..
5. Admit It, You’re a Sucker for Fluff Pieces
“Look into her eyes; she is the face of a nation.” NBC’s army of melodramatic commentators are being deployed early to prepare those gripping human interest stories about children being ripped from their parents to be sacrificed to a socialized sports machine. Russian breadlines are also popular backdrops for them. John Tesh is still a media punching bag for announcing “little girls are dancing for gold” in Atlanta.
Tissue Alert: Expect Yekatarina Kramarenko to weep on-screen about costing the Russian women’s gymnastics team a medal at the 2007 Worlds due to a careless error. Teammates aren’t very forgiving when a medal is the difference between a comfortable life for your family or starving.
6. FCC and NAACP Nightmares
Summer Olympic fortnights present embarrassingly-accurate stereotypes: white men still can’t jump and they’re not great at running either. Country-club divisions among the U.S. Sports Teams continually entertain viewers. How many Chinese names will be slaughtered by commentators? Janet Jackson’s legacy lives on: expect serious FCC complaints by the Parents Television Council should any divers sport skimpy Speedos.
Visual Train Wrecks: The Chinese women’s gymnastics team received a penalty for offensive leotards in Barcelona. 2004 Olympic Champion, Catalina Ponor, briefly returned to competition bigger and bustier than ever before. Ponor’s high-cut leotards and perpetual wedgies were visual eye sores, with her recent retirement making her a likely candidate to continue her Romanian teammates’ legacy of Japanese Adult Film Superstardom.
7. Torch Lighting Mysteries
Who will light the torch and how will they do it? Barcelona trumped everyone by lighting the torch using a bow and arrow, so using Olympic heroes is preferable. Mohammad Ali caused a stir when he visually shook as he lit the Atlanta torch.
Prediction: Expect the Chinese to out-do Parkinson’s. Sang Lan, the Chinese gymnast paralyzed in New York at the 1998 Goodwill Games, is a top candidate to light the torch. Salt Lake City’s ceremony showed Dick Button running the torch into the arena months after suffering a fractured skull. Torch lighting is on the verge of achieving Lifetime Movie status.
8. International Redemption?
Going against the U.N. didn’t engender any global American support. NBC’s arrogant strong-arming doesn’t help. Marion Jones’s admission that her “Drive for Five” was a sham further damns American credibility. With scandals plaguing every major-league sport in America, Jones’ is notable because of her insistent, angry denials of steroid use. Jones faces sentencing and the expunging of her name from books, but it remains unclear whether Jones’ relay teammates will also be forced to relinquish their Olympic hardware.
Enter: The Dream Team
The U.S. Men’s Basketball Team is going for gold the old fashion way: by recruiting multimillionaire NBA stars to slam dunk the competition. Ethics seemed important at the time, when criticisms arose of the ’92 Dreamers Harlem-Globetrotting all over the Barcelona event. Jordan won’t be back, but Kobe expects to be the USA’s hit man. Given Kobe’s experience with the law, perhaps he can recommend a lawyer for Marion. Alleged rapists make the best role models.