My ongoing obsession with watching the Olympics

Sunday, February 11, 2018 - 5:27pm

NOSELL

NBC

If you need to find me over the next two weeks, I’ll be glued to any screen I can get my hands on, live-streaming NBC and cheering on the U.S.A. in winter sports I only aggressively pretend to know the slightest about. From the moment the torch is lit, it’s pure magic for me. While some merely view the Olympics as an exploitative and over-hyped money-maker, to me, the Games carry an entirely different connotation of unity, identity and wholesome entertainment.

Now, when I say I love watching the Olympics, I truly mean the entire Olympics. From the opening and closing ceremonies to any event (no matter how obscure or underappreciated), I find myself intrigued and entranced by the spectacle of it all. From the time I was eight years old — watching legendary athletes like Nastia Liukin and Michael Phelps make history during the 2008 Beijing Summer Games — it has become a ritual of mine to tune in every two years and binge-watch the live coverage.

The Olympics always bring me back to the nostalgic era of TV — you know, the entire family gathering in the living room unit, everyone adding their two cents and critiques of what’s on the screen. In my family, that picture usually goes a little something like this: me holding my breath every time a figure skater leaves the ground, my parents becoming overnight “experts” in terminology like “triple axel” and “luge” and my brother laughing along with Twitter at some hilariously awkward Olympics commentary.

In that way, the experience of watching the Olympics on TV is unquestionably a valued tradition shared with family, but it expands into something much bigger than that. It’s an experience shared with the nation, and even more notably, the entire world. Rooting for your home country and engaging in the pure anxiety and excitement that stems from an international competition is simply a timeless and universal phenomenon.

Suddenly, even the most indifferent and uninformed citizens shapeshift into patriots, feeling proud that their athletes can accomplish what others can’t. While social media is normally a space for heavy-handed criticism of America and its culture, when the Olympics are on, red, white and blue overwhelm the airwaves and a truly magnificent sense of unity and togetherness ignites. Guys in full-body U.S.A. garb, no shortage of American flag emojis and those tear-jerking P&G commercials on repeat — every Olympic Games marks a surge in the allegiance to an endorsement of our country. And admittedly, while that outpouring can be a little pretentious and overkill at times, it is still exhilarating and heartwarming nonetheless.

Besides feeling as though you are a part of history and partaking in the cultural extravaganza that is the Olympics, the idealized nature of the Games is yet another enthralling aspect of watching them on TV. There’s just something so encouraging about seeing people (make that very young people) fulfill their dreams and accomplish their lifelong goals on such a global platform. Sitting in front of the TV, seeing all the action unfold and watching fantasies become realities has the indescribable ability to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Ultimately, what it boils down to is that it’s just refreshing to see people do good on TV for a change.

Dumbfounded comments like, “I can’t believe humans are actually capable of doing that,” and, “I seriously wish I could do that,” frequently flood the scene during those two weeks. And just like that, I (along with the rest of America) start having visions of getting into a sport, becoming a prodigy and winning gold. Unfortunately, I think I’m past my prime. Also unfortunately, I’m just extremely unathletic and talentless. Sure, maybe watching the Olympics can destroy your self-esteem in an instant, but it can also motivate you to be better.

The final and perhaps most curious draw to watching the Olympics is the presentation of diversity on our screens for those few weeks. Stellar athletes of all races and backgrounds are (for a change) evaluated based on their skill sets and dedication, not their socially constructed statuses. Distinctly, this winter’s Team U.S.A. is bringing the largest and most diverse squad of athletes to the Winter Games, advocating for inclusivity alongside their usual standard of excellence.

All of a sudden the world realizes that women are determined and proficient athletes, that your age does not define your capability and that there are a multitude of unique and underrated sports out there. The Olympics seem to not only make society more open-minded and appreciative, but also the normally strict and tradition-keeping world of sports. In fact, for almost three decades now the Winter Olympics has pushed for women’s involvement, knocking down barriers to previously male-exclusive sports like hockey and curling. Similarly, figure skater Adam Rippon and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy are breaking massive cultural ground this year by being the first openly gay male Winter Olympic athletes. If it takes something as extravagant as the Olympics to knock some sense into society and make representation clear and prominent, then, hey, even more power to them.

Overall, watching this year’s PyeongChang Winter Olympics is shaping up to be a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring global moment. With the deluge of media coverage and countless new ways to tune into the Games, watching the Olympics has triumphantly evolved from a simple presentation of international competition to a more interactive, hopeful and pride-filled TV experience. If that — combined with the fact that for two weeks you have the perfect excuse to procrastinate any effort-involving task — doesn’t make you want to tune in, then where’s your sense of Olympic spirit?