Why we watch the Olympics

Some version of the Olympics are staged every two years, and I use the word “staged” in all its many shades of meaning. Just why do so many of us drop everything and focus our attention on athletics, even when, for the majority of watchers, changing TV channels without a remote is the toughest physical workout we get?

The answer is obvious: the Olympics are a gigantic short story collection. Most of these stories fall into the triumph over adversity scenario, even for those who don’t medal, and they represent the great majority. Just getting to the games is a triumph in itself. A far greater number, including some amazingly talented athletes, never even get close.

We watch because such stories intrigue us. Some astound us. Some befuddle us. And a few, better left unpublicized, simply embarrass us.

In days past, one’s Olympic viewing time was limited to the number of prime-time hours a network could schedule. Now, the broadcasts are never-ending. During rare breaks in the competition, profiles of the athletes and/or venues are broadcast, but it seems for all the world like more time is reserved for commercials than anything else. Even sadder, there seems to be a limited variety of commercials available, so we end up seeing the same ones over and over again. I see it as a form of the Chinese drip torture.

Why couldn’t some of that time be devoted to lesser-known stories? Granted, such things may not be as appealing to our national pride as watching a celebrated athlete climb onto the awards podium to receive a disk of some rare metal. But still, some of those stories are worth telling. Some, in fact, absolutely demand telling!

I, for one, cast my vote for uhm… okay… full disclosure. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

Back in the day, and I’m talking way-way back in the day, the Olympics featured a lesser range of competition, although some of it would be welcomed in our current high-tech world. In fact, a combination of some old and new sports might spark a vast, new wave of interest.

F’rinstance, Tug-o’-War was a big-time Olympic event from 1900 to 1920. Back then, winning was simple: just drag the opposing team across a dividing line. Little has changed in the interim. But what if the dividing line were made more interesting? What if a fire pit were covered with a thin layer of support which would collapse when all or most of a team put their weight on it? What if each team was composed of used car salesmen, lawyers, or politicians (and I’ll be the first to admit telling these species apart is damned difficult).

Both croquet and dueling were also part of the early Olympics. While croquet doesn’t do much for me, I was fascinated to learn about dueling. These guys, and presumably gals, too, would fire wax bullets at each other. Is that cool, or what?

Imagine combining that with the modern biathlon. Competitors would ski up, down, over, and around hills of varying size, then stop and fire paintball guns at each other. The winners would be determined, in part, based on how many times they were hit.

Alas, we may have to simply satisfy ourselves with the antics of Olympic spectators, which, considering the bizarre array of costuming involved–combined with a little imagination–could easily become a competitive event in itself. Scoring, however, might be a bit of a problem, but with the rapid development of artificial intelligence, I anticipate a viable breakthrough would quickly occur.

Yours, for even better games,



About joshlangston

Grateful and well-loved husband, happy grandparent, novelist, editor, and teacher. My life plate is full, and I couldn't be happier. Anything else I might add would be anticlimactic. Cheers!
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4 Responses to Why we watch the Olympics

  1. Doris Reidy says:

    Another example of your amazing imagination at work. Two thoughts: I like the athletes’ stories more than the actual events; I bet those wax bullets hurt.

  2. An-l says:

    You never stop amazing and entertainment me!

  3. pcartist says:

    i dont watch the Olympics for the reason you pointed out and most bore me. Once it went to storytelling versus watching the full events,you lost me.

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