Snow Days
The Loop

Why I love the Winter Olympics, even if I don't quite understand any of it

Niklaus Stump

January 1948: The Swiss entry for the ski-jump competitions, Niklaus Stump, during the Winter Olympics at Saint Moritz. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Hulton Archive

It’s time again to prepare for my recurrent and scorching bout of Olympic Fever, which, despite living with two children with endless winter nasal-leakage issues, is one of the only ailments I get on a regular basis.

Olympic Fever tends to present every four years with the same symptoms: high levels of NBC, a brief but real interest in luge, competitive feelings toward citizens of Armenia (BOOOOOOOOO ARMENIANS, FOR SOME REASON), medal pox, constant exposure to Bob Costas and Bob Costas’s weird red eye. Does anybody else remember Bob Costas’s weird red eye? It was like a kickball stapled itself to his face. I’m sure it must be terrible to wake up to find yourself beset by a giant crimson dinner plate in your eye socket, but man I couldn’t stop looking at that thing. I hope they have Visine in South Korea.

I’m always excited for the Olympics; I find the entire enterprise comfortable and reassuring. The Olympics are nice to have on in the background, they offer a glimpse into remote cultures I wouldn’t otherwise know about and they offer the chance to watch preternaturally talented people score points in figure skating, slope skating and ski jumping and say, “WHAT IN THE HELL POINT SYSTEM ARE YOU GUYS ON, BECAUSE NONE OF THIS IS MAKING ANY SENSE. WHY IS THE RUSSIAN PIXIE GETTING 87 POINTS BUT THE SOMEHOW SMALLER FRENCH SKATER GETTING 75.23912. AND WHY THE DECIMALS, WHY CAN’T YOU PEOPLE ROUND UP?”

(I also enjoy watching competitions where people who are 36 years old are described in such a way that the announcers obviously can’t believe they’re not dead. If I see one more pre-produced segment about a nation full of people who can’t believe a near-fortysomething can attach himself to a pair of skis and not immediately fall to the ground with crippling back pain, I’m throwing my cholesterol meds at the Roku or whatever this thing my son set up is.)

Related: Everything you need to know about the confusing Winter Olympics hockey tournament

Anyway, the only problem I have with the Winter Olympics is the same I have with the Summer Olympics: That they happen in places that I do not want to bring my children. But also, both of them result in this amazing phenomenon in which TV announcers, from the relative be-mocha’d comfort of whatever press box they’ve been paid to sit in, will routinely and with a straight face complain about the people who are doing things like FLINGING THEMSELVES off giant ramps and spinning around four times. They talk like this ALL THE TIME; they speak in the calm, removed tones of professionals assigning numbers to situations in which most people would clearly die. They’re not terribly accurate though; one guy will call something on the slope-style competition a “double,” when by my count the whirling dervish of long hair and scarves on the board will have swiveled around 30 times and somehow not landed on his eyes.

And all the announcers do is COMPLAIN. Lindsay Vonn will finish a run in which she rockets vertically down a mountain for 50,000 feet, and she’ll finish a tenth of a second behind the leader, and everyone on TV will essentially act like she adopted 12 orphan puppies who all just drifted out to sea. Meanwhile, the slope-style and ski-jump women are flinging themselves through the air on elongated crackers, and all the announcers are doing is saying, “Eh, she was better in practice.” She was BETTER than being airborne for 30 minutes in constant rotational motion? The only guy who can complain about this is Costas, because he might not have seen it.