Monday, February 15, 2010

U-S-A! U-S-A!

The Olympic Games have a very strange effect on people, and by people of course I mean me. The anticipation leading up to them is never that great on my end. When you think about it, it's kind of hard to get excited for events like speed skating weeks in advance. It just doesn't sound that good on paper and when you have gone four years without seeing it, you can easily forget how entertaining it can be. I follow professional sports year-round so I have my teams and the games I like to watch and I'm pretty set in my ways and dare I say that a sport like ski jumping isn't going to surpass my love for baseball anytime soon.

So there I was last Friday, not really too excited about the Olympics; content to ignore them or possibly leave them on in the background while I perform menial tasks around the house at best.

I had really lowered my expectations for the opening ceremonies for this year's Winter Games. After all, how can you follow up a performance like China's Zhang Yimou-directed batshit insane ceremonies in 2008? And a nation like Canada? The United States' modest, ham enthusiast neighbor? They could never pull anything like that off! I was resigned to this being a "building year" for the Olympics, so to speak. Things will get really impressive at London 2012; for now though let's just watch the canucks do their thing and be done with it, eh? Besides, it's the Winter Olympics: the boring Olympics. It's an event that features ice dancing for Christ's sake.

Well, I was wowed by the opening ceremonies, not for any sort of massive spectacle featuring a cast of thousands like the Chinese put on two years ago, but mainly just because I'm a big sucker for pomp and circumstance. Just seeing all the competing nations in their countries' colors is gosh-darned heartwarming. And I also have a soft spot for the Canadians.

You see, my great-grandparents came from Canada, I'm a Canadian-American. Hearing "O Canada" tickles my heart strings almost as much as "God Bless America" does. Perhaps that's because of my heritage, maybe its because as a Minnesotan I share certain qualities with citizens of the Great White North: cold resistance, passive aggressiveness, love for the sport of hockey etc. I also share Canadians' love for the Queen, crappy beer, and poutine so Canada is a natural fit for me.

I didn't care that the Olympic Torch Pillar Contraption kinda sorta didn't work 100%, it was awesome. And seeing Wayne Gretzky travel down the streets of Vancouver carrying the Torch to light the outside Cauldron being chased by adoring Canadians is almost enough to bring a man to tears, no matter his nationality. By Saturday morning I was ready to be a die hard Winter Olympics devotee.

But there's a problem with this year's Olympiad and that's the lack of a good rival for the USA. During the Cold War, the Soviets and their Eastern Bloc stooges were reliable bad guys to face down in the Games. Now that the Russians aren't our sworn enemies anymore (Modern Warfare 2 notwithstanding) its not quite as fun to root for Team USA without the incentive of triumphing over evil in a bloodless display of national prowess. Also, the Russian National Hockey team hasn't won gold since the fall of the Soviet Union so we lack the fun of being the underdogs.

So who could replace the Commies as our Olympics rivals? The Chinese were great antagonists during the Summer Games two years ago, what with their human rights violations and rivalry for global economic dominance, but they aren't that into winter sports with the exception of ice dancing, and I refuse to play out our geopolitical struggle via ice dancing. The French, perhaps? The problem with the French is that they're our allies, even if they are a bunch of assholes. They're like that friend that you have that you don't really like but you're still friends with anyway because they're your friend, you know? So we can't fight the French. The North Koreans maybe? The North Koreans are just far too silly to be taken seriously. It would be almost as if SPECTRE had an Olympic team.

My solution for our dearth of Winter Olympic rivals? The Iranian Men's Biathlon Team. Iran has a solid history of competition in the Summer Games (though in some of the less popular events such as Taekwondo and weightlifting) and has even sent some athletes to compete in sports such as cross-country skiing for the Winter Games. Though far removed from the European centers of biathlon, I think Iran could find a niche in the sport. There's plenty of mountains and whatnot in Iran, so skiing isn't an issue and who doesn't love guns? Just picture Sochi 2014: wouldn't it be fun to see the United States and Iran face off in biathlon there? Skiing! Shooting!

At any rate, Iranian biathlon or not, I look forward to a fun two weeks of sport and patriotic celebration. After all, what other time of year is it considered appropriate to get drunk and yell at foreigners? Oh that's right, the World Cup is coming up...