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The Winter Olympics might be corrupt, crass and silly, but we still love to watch

U.S. Olympic Team

Why in the world are the Winter Olympics in Sochi, one of Russia’s warmest places?  

Chalk it up to corruption – both the Russians’, which we’ve come to expect, and the International Olympic Committee’s – which we’ve also come to expect.

The IOC hasn’t just shown a willingness to be bought, but an insistence.

That’s how you get a Winter Olympic skating rink built in the shade of palm trees. The warm weather is funny, unless you spent your entire life training for these Olympics, and there’s no snow. Then it’s just heartbreaking.

Sochi will also be remembered for the systemic beatings of a punk group called Pussy Riot – which is the kind of name you come up with when you want something shocking, but you don’t know English very well.

But this is important, for two reasons.

First, it allows journalists to say Pussy Riot on the air. I don’t think my boss will let me say it next week.

And second, it restores our sense of moral superiority. This way, we can still hate the Russians – then beat them in hockey. 

And that’s exactly what the Americans did, thanks to a guy named T.J. Oshie. In the eighth-round of the overtime shootout, he scored the winner, forcing millions of Americans to look up T.J. Oshie and find out where he plays. People in St. Louis were surprised to discover that he lives there. 

But it was not the Miracle on Ice – and it never will be again. Unless, that is, al-Qaida develops the best team in hockey history and gets beaten by a bunch of college players. Yes, young listeners, that’s how it felt in 1980. 

Today the hockey players are millionaires who devote exactly two weeks to the Olympics, in a glorified all-star game. Sorry, that’s not the same. 

The women, in contrast, are deeply invested.

The play together all year, and you see their passion every time the U.S. plays Canada. 

For two countries that share the world’s longest undefended border, what little hate exists between them seems to be centralized in these two teams. 

Speaking of Canada: Their team house had a beer vending machine that spits out cold Molsons, activated by Canadian passports.

So, my question: What does it take to get a Canadian passport?

One hundred visits to Tim Hortons? 

Their Olympic coverage is better than ours, too. On NBC you see people talking. Flip to CBC, and you see athletes competing. Go back: People talking. Back: Athletes competing. The Canucks might be onto something.

The U.S. networks happily interrupt the action to give us personal stories, including The Worst Interview of the XXII Winter Olympiad. Kristen Cooper approached Bode Miller just seconds after another disappointing run, then grilled him about his dead brother until he cried.

Nice work.

Some sports seem more like hobbies that nobody should be watching. Yet, we do.

There’s no better example than curling – which is like bowling, but slower. We don’t know any of them. They wear silly pants. They push brooms. We have no idea how the scoring works.  And yet, we cannot look away!  It is the lava lamp of Olympic sports. 

So how are we Americans not dominating that sport?

Seems like it was made for us. Even if we did medal, we might not know it because NBC seems to have decided not to show any medal ceremonies.

Of course, there have been plenty of heroics, and much of it by athletes with Michigan ties – at least 18, not even counting the Red Wings who play for other countries. At one point, the state of Michigan could claim more medals than 89 countries.

And they say we’re dead? Suck it, Ohio!

The Winter Olympics can be corrupt, crass and downright silly – but when the commercial chaos clears, we get to see these amazing athletes at the height of their games, it’s still worth it.  And the spontaneous joy is something you can’t get anywhere else.

John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
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