Here, in (kinda sorta) condensed form, with no attempt at any order whatsoever, is what I remember from past Olympiads:
- The USSR doing everything short of welding a lid on the basket to fraudulently take the 1972 men’s basketball gold medal game, the most sickeningly brazen robbery ever, which later gets blown off as “controversy”.
- Jimmy Carter and company pulling America out of the 1980 Summer Games due to the USSR invading a rinky-dink desert nation we could not possibly give less of a crap about, followed by the USSR pulling the same stunt in 1984 because, hey, tit for tat and whatnot.
- A vault being set to a non-regulation height, the kind of thing that in a real sport invalidates the entire contest, but for gymnastics is simply “controversy” and which no corrective action whatsoever is needed.
- Boxing corruption getting so completely out of control that a flippin’ Korean eventually got a gift win.
- The “solution” to the Chernobyl meltdown that boxing had become being to keep the exact same bought-and-paid-for judges but make them push little buttons, because everyone knows crackpot video game remedies solve everything.
- East Germany. All of it. The Onion article of international sports.
- Atlanta unveiling a weird-looking mascot for the heck of it and an entire nation acting like it’s the freaking apocalypse.
- A whiny, entitled brat figure skater giving the most bizarre response to being attacked imaginable and nobody at all finding anything really weird about that, followed by the unbelievably wrongheaded elevation of said whiny, entitled brat into sainthood, during which commentators get to spew out crap like “madonna/whore” and the false dichotomy of one Good Guy and one Bad Guy with a straight face without ever being called on it, leading to the most loaded, scripted, heavy-handed, plastic reality figure skating coverage ever (and that’s saying a lot), to the point where the talking heads were genuinely surprised when the whiny, entitled brat acted like a whiny, entitled brat during her victory parade.
- A mind-blowing smoking gun tape of the ice dancing judges conspiring to fix the contest (leagues have been destroyed by scandals like this) and the “sport” surviving this piffling little “controversy”.
- A Russian figure skating pair doing a more difficult long program than the Canadian pair but making a few little mistakes, being granted the win regardless, and this somehow erupting into the hugest figure skating scandal ever, then the French judge discovered to be crooked (wow, a crooked Olympic judge, stop the presses!), and this somehow translating into both pairs deserving the gold despite the Russians winning the short program, and it’s a beautiful medal ceremony and all smiles and this erases the last 90 brazenly unjust figure skating results.
- CBS getting the rights to the Winter Olympics, listening to the wrong people, and proceeding to completely lose their collective minds.
- An American volleyball player (admittedly something of a loudmouth jerk) not getting called for a penalty point he should have which would’ve cost the American squad the match, the officials blithely allowing the match to go on, the opponents later protesting and getting the penalty point and the victory, meaning that either the IOC was absolutely hellbent on screwing the American side both ways, or that the officials made two teams sweat through an additional two sets for nothing because they have the competence and decisiveness of sandpaper.
- An FBI agent responding competently and courageously to a terrorist bombing and being rewarded with a tidal wave completely unfounded, bogus, groundless, baseless, dishonest, wrongful, off-base, false, false, false accusations for absolutely no goddam reason, costing him his career and ultimately his life, and not a single person ever being punished for this horrifying injustice…pardon, “controversy”.
Now? Nothing. Beijing came and went peacefully, for crying out loud. My biggest impressions from London were Michael Phelps tearing the swimming pool a new drain valve and America finally dominating the medal count top-to-bottom and freeing us to talk about other things. Michelle Kwan looked like she was going to muscle out a more deserving younger competitor but eventually bowed out gracefully, and that was the last time figure skating threatened to become a national embarrassment.
Even the coverage has regained its sanity. Yeah, I’ve heard all the gripes about NBC, but compare what you’re seeing now to CBS’s coverage, or American Ninja Warrior, or the NFL playoffs. The impression I’m getting? They’re actually treating it like sports now. No more smothering human interest stories, no foaming-at-the-mouth jingoism, no tedious interviews. I’ve seen a grand total of one profile so far, Tina Maze. The commentators actually sound like they have functioning brains (okay, the ones who covered the men’s figure skating short program were pretty bad, but that’s the only letdown I’ve seen), and even the infamous Bob Costas manages to keep it fairly cool. My gosh, it’s like they’ve accepted the reality that there are other nations better than us at winter sports! Norway will dominate, Canada and Holland and Russia will slug it out for second, and yoo-es-ay will be an ay-el-es-oh ar-ay-en, so give up this stupid fantasy of American dominance and just enjoy the spectacle. Yes. I like this. I like this a lot.
None of the sources of “controversy” exist anymore. There are college graduates for whom the USSR has not existed for a single day of their lives. East German judge jokes are old hat. China, although it will never be a nice place to live until the end of time, has grudgingly embraced free markets, diplomacy, and youth culture. Hell, ask a young person what the “Communist” country is and the most likely response you’ll get is “Norway”. Korea got a Santa Claus bag of gifts at the the 1988 Olympics and World Cup, discovered that this boon ran out when Apolo Ohno was inexplicably not robbed, and fell right back into sporting irrelevance.
Sochi? There was a call for a boycott for like five minutes, then it ended and everyone showed up. The biggest flap so far has been Shaun White pulling out of slopestyle after citing safety issues, which is apparently a crime against humanity in the snowboarding community and a great big BFD for the rest of the planet. The skating competitions have barely made any noise at all; I can’t even name a single figure skater. Heck, Bode Miller is just another competitor now. There have been terrorist concerns, but Russia has been fighting these no-accounts for a long time now, and it’s safe to say that if they dare try anything, they’ll be the ones getting the worst of it. And not one whisper about a mascot anywhere.
No more horror stories. No more bitterness and hatred and loathing. No more brazen corruption. No more suffocating politics. The Olympics have become…well…okay.
See, while there’s no doubt that this is a hugely positive development, I can’t help but feel more than a little…weird. Dangeresque 3, Chinese Democracy, and Duke Nukem Forever all being released weird. Gay marriage being legalized and non-whackjob America being fine with it weird. Red Sox being one out away from being swept by the Yankees in the ALCS and The Curse, a more powerful and immortal force than the Zeus, Odin, Pelor, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Yukari Yakumo put together just ending right then and there and the Red Sox pulling a comeback for the ages weird. Seahawks going up against an AFC team led by a beloved media darling and not only not getting robbed, but winning in a blowout weird. National retail juggernauts Tower Records, CompUSA, Circuit City, Borders Books and Music, and Blockbuster Video all ceasing to exist in the span of a decade weird.
Things change. I just didn’t expect this change to hit this drastically. It’s gonna take some getting used to.