From the opening "Beating Heart" until the Closing "Guys in Tights Jumping through Confetti"
Every time I try to write about this, my remarks end up sounding a lot like fist-shaking, like "Things were better in the old days!" and "You damned kids get off my lawn!"
But I'll see if I can sum it up without the venom.
Once every four years, for a brief period of time, some athletes, many of whom are the best in the world at what they do, some of whom think of nothing else for most of every year, compete in their sports.
Part of the reason we have sports at all, is so that we can compete with each other without killing each other.
So these athletes represent their countries, but they also represent a sporting ideal of intense competition in a mutually respecting environment. Sometimes, tragically, it doesn't turn out that way, but overall, the Olympics have a pretty good record.
In that context, it's more than a little bizarre to observe the endless carping about TV ratings and number of American medals. In my memory, the U.S. is usually not predominant in winter sports, and for good reason: we're not surrounded by fjords, we're not obsessed with cross-country skiing or luge, and we're competing with countries who are.
It's odder still to realize that there are plenty of us saying, in essence, "I don't know a thing about 'luge', but dammit, we lost!" "Wouldn't be caught dead on an ice rink, but what the ^*#) happened?? Where's the gold??"
Perhaps the pre-Olympic hype is to blame. It predominantly featured American athletes, and a couple of goofballs with a frozen guy. I can remember a great many talented American figure skaters who didn't medal; I can remember Olympics where America won just a few medals, and many more were won by competitors from communist countries. It was still fascinating.
If you want to know why the ratings are low, check out the number of commercials per hour in the coverage, and check out the amount of obsession on American medals. Especially in downhill skiing. These folks ski against each other all the time in Europe and alternate winning, like the PGA, or the tennis tour.
In some of these events, you get one run down the slope and then they hand out medals. To insist that the Games are only interesting when Americans win medals, is to distract from the inspiring and transcendent performances, and the epic stories behind them, which comprise the most compelling part of the Olympics.
I honestly believe that, if they are promoted in this honest way, the Olympic Games can easily defeat an hour of competition, or actually eight minutes of competition between semi-famous people dancing mediocrely, interrupted by forty minutes of blabbering about it.
Don't get me wrong-- you've got every right to watch "Dancing with the Stars"; I just think NBC allowed the best part of the Olympic story to slip through their fingers. No worries-- they did much better when the games were in the U.S., and they're already committed through 2012. Plenty of learning opportunities between now and then.