Olympic Pageantry and Palaver


It could be ten o’clock in the morning, or maybe 2:30 in the afternoon.  Or even the middle of the night.  I’m sitting here on the couch, glued to the Olympics on TV.  Swelling with pride and wiping a tear from my eye when Sage Kotsenburg wins gold and places his hand over his heart as The Star-Spangled Banner plays and the Olympic torch burns brightly in the background.  Aching for Bode Miller when his high-speed flight down the Russian Trampoline isn’t enough for a medal.  Marveling at the moguls performances of Canada’s Dufour-Lapointe sisters.  Cheering on Jamie Anderson.  Watching in horror as Sarka Pancochova of the Czech Republic falls on her head, cracks her helmet and goes tumbling down the hill.

For me, it’s a little bit of déjà-vu, and not a welcome reprise either, this personal repeat performance of the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.  I was out of work then, too, and got to stay up until three in the morning to see all the interviews and analysis and post-mortems following the last competition of the day.

The Opening Ceremonies, that I so looked forward to, I found to be rather a disappointment in Sochi.  At bottom, I suppose every host country’s goal in presenting the Opening Ceremony is the same:  To present the nation in the best light possible.  A little history, a little culture, a little razzamatazz, nothing too controversial.  Throw in a few famous writers and musicians from days gone by, add a cute kid, shake well before serving.  Pretty formulaic.

The opening at Sochi reminded me very much of its counterpart at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.  Acrobatic Lyubov, reciting a Cyrillic abecedaric Who’s Who of Russia and soaring aloft with her red balloon, seemed entirely too similar to the London dream sequence wherein children from the Great Ormond Street Hospital conjured up visions of Mary Poppins and Peter Pan.  Both London and Sochi depicted brief images of an agrarian age followed by the Industrial Revolution and devastating wars.  Same old, same old.

As the NBC announcer pointed out, the less savory aspects of Russian history were glossed over or missing entirely.  No references to Lenin, Stalin, Five-Year Plans, the KGB, religious repression, heavy-handed Communist ideology or even Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika.  Sputnik and Soyuz, yes.  Nuclear arms race, no.

But then again, what do you expect?  Best face forward is the rule, and hey, I certainly didn’t see the opening ceremonies of the Salt Lake City or Atlanta Games refer to drugs, crime, homelessness or unemployment.  So, sure, I found the Sochi references to weddings, kids and “hipsters” to be rather saccharinely cloying (as if hippie lifestyles were either common or tolerated in twentieth century Russia).

In the end, however, no matter what the host nation, it’s all just pageantry and pre-macerated pap intended for public consumption with a topping of hearts and flowers, tra-la.

As for myself, for the next couple of weeks I’ll have one eye on the amazing athletic feats taking place half a world away, even while the rest of the couch is covered with résumés and paper clips and envelopes, as I assemble job applications during the commercials.

But I still think those white-clad sign bearers that led forth each delegation during the Parade of Nations were just weird.

Go Team USA!


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