Point-Counterpoint: Winter Olympics leaves fans iced out


(Illustration by Liam Mcfadden | Staff Illustrator)

By Brandon Glass | Staff Writer

What’s the biggest story from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics so far?

It could be Adam Rippon’s spat with Vice President Mike Pence, or Pence and North Korean propaganda vice director Kim Yo Jong’s awkward non-interaction. Is the answer legendary snowboarder Shaun White’s third halfpipe Olympic gold win in dramatic fashion, or the subsequent trivialization of assault allegations against him?

In the week and a half since the grand opening ceremony, headlines have featured a decidedly depressing reminder of the strife of everyday life, and not tales of Olympic struggle and awe-inspiring athletic achievement.

[Read the counterpoint: The Winter Olympics deserve a chance]

The truth is, the Winter Olympics just can’t hold a torch — pun intended — to those of the summer. They aren’t a must-see television event in the same way — you don’t gather around with loved ones and get excited to watch skeleton and curling in the same way you watch Ashton Eaton dominate the decathlon and Katie Ledecky win golds and set records in swimming.

At least I don’t.

I’ve caught a highlight here and there, but most of my Winter Olympic viewing time is on bar televisions and through my phone in a particularly boring class.

What the Winter Olympic athletes do is hard, and we all know it’s hard — I’m certainly not trying to say that it isn’t. Imagine yourself in their shoes, or in this case, their skis, speeding down the side of a mountain.

Though it may be hard, that doesn’t make it interesting.

The excitement, or lack thereof, was the same in 2014 Sochi Olympics and 2010 Vancouver Olympics before that — and the ratings show that Americans agree, with the summer games being viewed by millions more fans.

The issue with the Winter Olympics is clearly systemic — it is difficult to start out in many sports featured at the games due to the high cost most the sports carry.

Pricey sports are played by affluent people, and affluent people are often lacking in want. Wealth doesn’t necessarily make life easier, but it does open rarified doors more easily, while closing common ones.

In Pittsburgh for example, the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Department has an ice-skating rink with open skate hours —  Unfortunately, they take place during the day when most people are at work or school. But, you can rent the facility for the low cost of $305 an hour, if you are a resident. That’s not to disparage the Mt. Lebanon Recreation Department — it’s pricey to run an ice rink.

Growing up, most of us ran around outside and jumped rope, maybe occasionally played basketball and badminton with friends and family. Some public elementary schools have track and field days, and most high schools have track and field teams.

I’d venture to say rarely, if ever, has a family gotten together for a fun run in a bobsled. As kids sled down hills head first, they don’t imagine themselves as Lizzy Yarnold, a two-time British skeleton gold medalist — they’re more afraid of their mom seeing them risking their skeleton.

And figure skating, while dazzling, is a remarkably hard sport to follow. The skater flies in the air and does more revolutions than humanly possible — I’m in awe. Then the announcer, who knows the minutia of the sport, comes over the television set and says what a disaster the run was. I’m baffled.

I wish Rippon the best, but I don’t know what move I’m wishing for him to land.

The Winter Olympics are fighting an uphill battle to compete with the majesty of the Summer Olympics, but it’s not entirely anyone’s fault. Wealth inequality is exceptionally high, and there are increasingly more warm places on earth than cold.