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OPINION - Having trouble warming up to the winter Olympics

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  The winter Olympics are visually stunning. Who isn’t attracted to the beauty of figure skating? Ski jumping is fascinating to watch. Luge and bobsledding look like a white-knuckle ride. I like enjoying snowy downhill skiing while I’m snugged up in my living room. And, yes, there’s something compelling about watching athletes compete to see who is the best in the world.

But I won’t be doing a lot of cheering. Truth is, I don’t know who these people are. I cannot name a single competitive figure skater – and that’s the most-watched event at the Olympics. The only downhill skier I know is Lindsey Vaughn, and that’s only because of the PR she’s gotten from being Tiger Wood’s girlfriend. And, because of that, I know that she’s injured and won’t compete. I know Joe Pavelski from Plover. I don’t really know anyone else.

A big part of the television coverage is a series of mini-documentaries that profile the athletes who are supposed to be likely medalists. We’re shown clips of their home life, their training struggles, etc. The goal is to build an emotional bond with the viewers. I find it trite and manufactured. It’s safe to say that all Olympic athletes have overcome training challenges to get onto the world stage. I don’t suddenly have a rooting interest in Nordic skiing or free-style snowboarding based on a TV piece.

The opening ceremonies, usually the viewing highlights of the games, look like a silly knock-off of a Circ du Soleil performance. (The ice skating boy with the lantern still lingers in my mind from the Salt Lake City games, as does the campy text-message dance routine from London 2012.) The lighting of the torch and the parade of athletes are the only parts of the night that I find attractive, and they come too late in the evening.

There will be some athlete at these games who will capture the world’s attention… we’ll cheer or cry at their success or failure. I’m sorry that I can’t summon up that level of emotion for sports that I don’t follow involving athletes I’ve never heard of.

Chris Conley

Image: Apartment buildings are pictured next to the Sanki sliding center at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort in Krasnaya Polyana near Sochi, January 26, 2014. (Reuters) via wsau.com.