Olympic Daydreams

by

Tim Thomas Team USA

Today the Tournament begins. The greatest hockey players on Earth, separated by and assembled into into their respective nationalities, in the Land Where Hockey Was Born, will face off for the right to wear a golden charm declaring them the Best in the World. The prestige, the glory, the epic drama and the world class play. It’s all there in spades. It should be the best possible quality of hockey you’ll see and it only happens every four years.

So why am I stifling a yawn?

I’ll admit it right here and stop wasting your time (the way NBC does with it’s endless “human interest” stories about Olympic athletes). The Olympics bore me, folks, and though I have every intention of watching the Men’s Hockey games, I have to be honest and let you know that the shine has worn off for me. There was a time when the appeal and anticipation of a tournament like this would have made me giddy and restless but now, it seems, those days are gone. I remember the sublime thrill of the 1996 World Cup and debut of NHL players in the Olympics in 1998 with extreme fondness. International hockey became a must see event in my mind, the greatest of the great in assemblage to square off with everything on the line. Monumental stuff.

So why has it faded so much for me?

Well, as I try to analyze it, I come up with a couple of key factors that seem to affect the way I view things these days. I think it’s combination of the way the Olympic games in general are produced and packaged for network television, the dislike I tend to have for All-Star Games and the inability of any current contest to ever measure up to the drama and thrills of Times Past, most notably Lake Placid, 1980.

I guess it sounds foolish but what NBC does with the broadcast of the games in general most certainly hurts the hockey tournament in a guilt-by-association kind of fashion. The way things are packaged and doled out, often with the events broadcast pre-recorded instead of live, studded with commercials and wrapped up with incessant sappy stories about the athletes and their families in attempts to bring in a wider audience (i.e. more females. sorry, but it’s the truth) has completely killed whatever interest or importance I once felt for the Olympic Games as a whole. I guess it’s the difference between someone who’s a sports fan versus someone who watches because it’s an “event” but I just want to see competition. Whatever backstory I need can be relayed to me in brief drop-ins from the play-by-play guys or in a short segment in the pre-game broadcast. Any more of that and I feel it takes away from the Sport I’m trying to see and turns things into yet another episode of Extreme Home Makeover.

That the coverage is disgusting and has been for decades should not be news to anyone. I hate having to watch the games through the filter of an network broadcast package. Recorded and shown at their convenience, padded with nonsense, sweet and syrupy as an Eggo waffle soaking in Aunt Jemima’s.

In turn, I also am not a big fan of All-Star games in general. I never feel like games featuring such a collection of talent are any real indication of what the sport is really like and rarely include any of the qualities that draw me to the sport on a regular basis. This is especially true in hockey where the physicality is completely absent from that sort of play. Granted, in International competition, the hitting will be amped up and the higher stakes are going to inspire a more intense play, I still can’t shake the feeling, with so many highly paid stars on the ice for various teams, that I’m watching a sort of exhibition of talent rather than a blood and guts battle like you tend to see when it’s Stanley Cup time.

I’m sorry, I know it’s an honor to play for your team and it means more to others than to some, it just loses some of it’s fire when, for example, guys who are teammates in the NHL are now squaring off with one another on National teams. I mean, just how hard is Zdeno Chara really going to hit Patrice Bergeron when Canada and Slovakia meet up? Does he want to return to Boston as the guy who knocked one of the key centers on his team out for the rest of the season and destroyed the team’s playoff chances? Or is he going to pull up a bit when they go into the corner together? It’s a valid question, folks.

I think, though, despite the nagging issues listed above, there is something much deeper for someone of my generation that, for a very good reason, takes some of the lustre off of today’s games. Something that happened 30 years ago but has embedded itself in the heart and psyche of any American hockey fan alive and aware at the time. You know what I’m talking about of course.

1980.

1980 US Olympic Hockey Team

I was 11 years old. Old enough to be aware of what was going on, the momentousness of what I was watching, the political tension in the air. Perhaps it was later in life I truly understood the importance of what had happened but, at some profound level, as I watched it all unfold, as I watched Jim Craig, draped in the American flag searching through the audience for his father, it impacted me like no other sporting even I had ever seen. The effects of that moment are still with me today. Would I have this passion for the game if not for that event in my formative years? Maybe. Maybe not. To say it was inspiring for a Boston kid, with the full knowledge of how many local guys were on that team, is a vast understatement. It hit me like a truck. A glorious, uplifting, emotionally transcendent truck with the letters USA on the front of it and the voice of Al Michaels blazing from a set of loudspeakers mounted on the front grille.

Yes. I believed in Miracles.

Nothing will ever match that.

Not that it’s the fault of the modern Olympics or Team USA or anything they do, really. It’s just that the bar was set high back then and I truly believe that no story will ever be the equal of the faintest shadow of that time. It simply cannot be.

Is that a good reason to dismiss the current games? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s unfair but, for me, that’s the way it is. Today’s games featuring The USA versus Switzerland, Team Canada versus Norway or Russia versus Latvia just don’t hold much appeal, regrettably.

Like I said, I’ll watch a lot of the key Men’s games. USA, Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden. Maybe even some of the Women’s (though Team Canada’s recent 18-0 trouncing of Slovakia makes it difficult to take some of those match-ups too seriously). I’ll probably see some fantastic hockey. I’ll see Alex Ovechkin and Sydney Crosby at their best. I’ll see the best goalies in the world. I’ll get to see my countrymen battle in an underdog role once again. It should be a certain measure of fun, for sure.

But it won’t measure up. I think I’m ready for the amateurs to return, quite honestly. Keep the NHL’ers in the NHL where they belong, battling it out for a different sort of hardware. It may help bring back some of the charm and interest the games once held for folks like me.

Until then, here’s to the Closing Ceremonies and Regularly Scheduled Programming.

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3 Responses to “Olympic Daydreams”

  1. KofC Says:

    Lots of good points there. Even without having followed Olympic hockey over the years (figure skating was the only sport from either summer or winter games I paid attention to as a kid), and the 1980 Miracle being a bit before my time, I prefer the idea of amateurs rather than NHL’ers.

    That might be mostly for selfish reasons of not wanting to see my team’s players hurt, or the NHL schedule disrupted…but I think it’d also feel easier to cheer for one’s country that way. (i.e. a discussion I heard on sports radio in Detroit last week–are more Detroit-area hockey fans cheering for Team USA, which includes several Michigan players, or for Sweden, which has the most Red Wings on it?) Which is odd for me to say given that I’m not crazy about some of the nationalism the Olympics bring out…

    I was really looking forward to finally seeing women’s hockey (esp. since I just read Angela Ruggiero’s memoir) but I’ve had maddening difficulties seeing much of the Olympics at all (I’ll save that griping for my blog). I’m not crazy about those lopsided games…there are some interesting ideas being put out there about what to do about it.

    • Ken Socrates Says:

      The question is, why do I feel so guilty about this? Like I’m betraying my sport by not being all gung-ho about Olympic hockey. In the end, I have to be honest about this. On Ken’s Fired-Up-Ometer, this tournament is about a 5, whereas the Stanley Cup Playoffs are a blazing hot 10. ‘Tis just the way it is.

  2. Ozzy McGurt Says:

    Hey Ken, you may not be fired up about Olympic Hockey, but Elvis Stoiko is. Did you read his slam on figure skating?

    “I am going to watch hockey, where athletes are allowed to push the envelope. A real sport.”

    I do have to agree with you to a degree. As children of that era, (I was in high school for the 1980 Miracle), Olympic Hockey will never have that intensity. The Miracle ruined that part of it for us. I do still enjoy it tho. It doesn’t have the same luster for me since they started allowing pros on the team, but everyone else was doing it, so we really had no choice. For me hockey is hockey. Unfortunately the Olympics have, like everything else, become so commercialized that it starts making me nauseous, but I still get into it. My favorite WO sport right now is curling. Beer swilling partying red-necks vying for gold in the Olympics. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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