There’s something fitting about watching the Winter Olympics in the midst of a record-setting blizzard in New York City. As I slogged through 5-foot drifts yesterday to lay in provisions for the evening’s viewing, I felt rather sporting myself: Does making snow angels count as a winter sport? How about doubles cocoa-drinking?
Friday’s opening ceremonies, which we watched together long-distance in a five-hour-long instant-messaging marathon, were a little disappointing. Maybe just because they were less brazenly weird than the ones at the 2004 Summer Games. The lofty version of national pride on display in Athens: We invented philosophy! Here’s a float to prove it!—was replaced by a wan tribute to Alpine regional culture. There was an iconographically muddled segment involving cowbells and flaming speed-skaters, whom Bob Costas identified as “human sparks of passion.” (I preferred the chorus line of skating pine trees: dark green cones with feet.)
But most of our IM kvetching on Friday had to do with the choice of music to accompany the parade of nations, which was so disco-centric as to be borderline offensive. Has American pop culture really metastasized to that point? Are the emotions of the world’s best athletes as they come together to represent their homelands really best expressed by a playlist including “YMCA” and “I Will Survive”? When Peter Gabriel showed up to crown the ceremony with a solo version of “Imagine” (a musical apotheosis superseded only by Pavarotti belting “Nessun Dorma”), you nailed the absurdity of the moment: “Imagine there’s no countries … lined up, wearing their national colors, holding flags …”
You also noticed that, of all the nations in the lineup, China was the one with the most egregious endorsement deal. Their athletes sported an Adidas logo so gigantic, it looked like a monster truck had left tire tracks across their heads. This shouldn’t be surprising, given Adidas’ $80 million investment to sponsor the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
From the opening ceremonies on, we both pegged Shaun White, with his Leif Garrett good looks and affable stoner mien, as one of the big personalities of this Olympics. Now that White has taken the gold, it seems clear that men’s halfpipe snowboarding is destined to be the women’s gymnastics of these games: the site where sport and aesthetics converge, where even viewers who don’t know a nose grab from a McTwist can appreciate the thrilling athleticism and subtly differing artistry of these masters of ice and air.
Shaun’s victory yesterday also means that, less than three full days into the games, we’ve already lost both our hero and our villainess for the week. Both you and I share an animosity toward Michelle Kwan, though in my case, the feeling is difficult to distinguish from a more general disgust with the media’s sentimentalization of female figure skating. But I know you have a particular problem with Kwan, so I’ll just hit that ball into your court—or rather, curl that stone into your house—and let you sweep it where you will.