How the Games are playing back in the world of Justin, Jamie and P-Diddy
By Jack McCallum
Dear Salt Lake Nation,
I have been asked to fill you in on how the Winter Games are playing outside of Utah. The answer is that they are playing predictably unobtrusively. Those of us who covered the 2000 Games in Sydney often felt as if Australia were still a penal colony and we were interned there, so generally disinterested was the American populace in events Olympian.
Take Sunday's NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia. (Please!) At one point courtside celebs Justin Timberlake, Jamie Foxx, P-Diddy and the irritating guy who stars on NBC's Ed were all on their cell phones at once, and I'm sure no one was recapping that day's Nordic combined. I asked my brother-in-law, an electrician in Pennsylvania, if his crew was talking luge. "Nah," he said. "They're still replaying the Super Bowl."
Even the television coverage has been relatively quiet, NBC's having replaced those syrupy personality pieces with actual competition. There have been low points, of course, such as the teases for the Daytona 500 -- there's crossover between cars and curling? -- and the discomfiting display of Today's Al Roker nearly expiring as he wristed shots at a makeshift hockey goal. (One word, Al: Treadmill.) All in all, though, it's been pretty subdued.
But, look, the restrained reaction to the Games is fine -- desirable, even -- because we live in a culture so glutted with opinions about sports. After said All-Star Game, half the people I met told me that Kobe Bryant is a showboating gunner who deserved the booing he got after he was voted MVP, and the other half told me that Philadelphia is a town of troglodytes who can't appreciate the grace of this fine young player. The best thing about watching the Olympics from the outside is that suddenly you find yourself among a citizenry that doesn't know everything. At the gym two days ago, for example, I found myself stretching next to a man who normally regales me with his unfettered opinions ("Shaq stinks," "Iverson stinks," "Barry Bonds stinks," etc.) but who on this day actually had a question instead of an assertion.
"You think those lugers can see where they're going?" he said.
"I think they glance up every once in a while, but I'm not sure," I answered.
"How about that German guy, eh? Five Olympics that guy's been in. Amazing."
I like that people treat the Olympics with the wonder that mainstream sports lack. It has become fashionable for those who are not at the Games to bash them as overproduced spectacles, preciousness raised to the nth degree and, worse, utterly lacking in Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Britney Spears tie-ins. But if the events in Salt Lake do not rise to the level of watercooler conversation, well, know that they are being discussed around the treadmill. And that seems just about right.