Today is the first day of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. I love the Olympics, specifically marathon Olympic viewing. I love immersing myself in sports that I don’t even think about during the intervening four years, briefly becoming a luge-obsessed freak. I love the familiar voices of the play-by-play announcers and color commentators. I loooove Bob Costas (what am I going to do without him this year? It was bad enough when he had that eye situation last time). I love the pre-packed bits of biographical information designed (uniformly successfully) to make me cry. I love that it only feels slightly slovenly to take to the couch for a one to two week period.
The first time I truly dedicated myself seriously to Olympic viewing was, I think, during the Seoul summer games of 1988. I would have been 12, and my younger sister Louise around eight or nine. Because it was summer, we had nothing to do except gorge on the Olympics, and gorge we did. We pulled out the sofa bed in the TV room and slept down there so that we could watch the official telecast from beginning to late-night end, well after everyone else had gone to bed. And we tried to wake up for any special during the night broadcasts. I remember the mental focus required to tune in for a 2 a.m. broadcast of Greco-Roman wrestling, but our goals were clear: complete knowledge of the Olympics as related to us by Bob Costas and the folks at NBC.
Our dedication to Olympic viewing continued through our childhoods, although I don’t recall another occasion when we were able to devote such single-minded focus to the games as that summer of ’88. Since then we haven’t always been able to watch the midday live telecasts of events, the more unedited, exciting broadcasts with announcers that have become friends (I’m talking about you, Tim Daggett). Despite this limitation, all primetime broadcasts were taken in, regardless of what usually-coveted sitcoms they came up against. Sorry, ALF, the Olympics are on.
My senior year of college, the winter Olympics occurred in Nagano. While other 21-22 year-olds were pursuing more age appropriate activities like dating and excessive drinking, I was holed up in my dorm room, devoted to the evening broadcasts as viewed on my tiny TV-VCR combo. Occasionally a friend would join as we sat across my dorm room bed and ignored our homework together. Oh, and at the same time I was working on a cross stitch for a soon-to-be-born cousin. Just to complete the completely ridiculous, pitiable picture.
Since then, professional-level Olympic viewing has become simultaneously easier and more overwhelming. Now that NBC broadcasts over several channels, one has to really stay on top of one’s game to make sure an early-round curling match doesn’t slip by unnoticed. Similarly, there will be moments where clutch decisions regarding a choice between channels must be made. And it’s hard to know when to stop one’s obsession–online supplementary content is essentially limitless, which is why I avoid it. Too many choices are a problem that I like to avoid. I tend to bookmark a few key sites including broadcast schedules and leave it at that. Just a little tip from a professional. It leaves my hands free for needle crafts.
Which raises the question: is it really the Olympics that I love, or the televised version of them delivered neatly packaged to my couch? And is the distinction even worth teasing out? If I ever have the chance to be at an Olympics live and in person, I will OF COURSE snap at the chance. But I know I’ll be missing something if I do, and my couch is so comfy, the afghan so soft… So my key channels are “favorited,” some websites bookmarked, Louise is on speed-dial, and a new cross stitch selected. I’m ready. Are you?