Before these Games get too far along, I would like to set the record straight. I keep hearing people insist that the Winter Olympics are the equal of the Summer Olympics. This is, quite frankly, completely untrue.
“Ah,” I hear you say, “but what does it matter that the Winter Games are not as fun to watch? The Olympics, as a whole, are an exercise in pointless jingoism and spurious national camaraderie, and the actual subject of the competition is really of little significance. If there were a contest to see which nation’s sons and daughters could make paint dry or reload a Web page most rapidly, we would still stand on the sidelines and chant ‘USA! USA!’ What is so wrong with curling, anyhow?”
If that’s how you feel, well, that’s how you feel. I, however, think that when the sport in question comes precariously close to the madcap excitement of watching people try to cross a recently washed floor, we are entitled to ask whether it’s really worth rounding up all of the poor wild dogs in Sochi.
Here are 10 reasons — by no means scientific or comprehensive — why the Winter Olympics are not equivalent to the Summer Olympics.
10. Founders’ intent. There was no slalom in ancient Greece. We got rid of the pankration, a brutal and exciting sport whose only rules were that you could not bite or gouge out your opponent’s eyes and that if you killed him, he won by default. And yet we still have to watch curling?
Seriously, legend has it that the fighter Damoxenos pulled out the entrails of his opponent Cruegas with his fingers. It’s no ice dancing, is what I’m getting at.
9. The Winter Games don’t draw the same crowd. Since its addition to the Olympic roster in 1924 (figure skating as an individual event made an appearance before that), the Winter Olympics have never managed to attract participants from more than 88 countries at a time.
By contrast, 204 National Olympic Committees were present at the 2012 Summer Games. If the Olympics seek to be a worldwide event, maybe it shouldn’t be restricted to activities that require complicated equipment and very specific weather conditions.
8. Almost every Winter Olympics event can be summarized as follows: Someone is on a plane of snow or ice (it can be flat or inclined) and that person falls down or does not fall down.
There are different ways of falling down or not falling down. The speed varies. The terrain varies. Sometimes music is playing in the background. But if you see someone watching the Olympics and you ask, “Oh no, did the person fall down?,” you will blend into the conversation 100 percent of the time. This is wrong.
7. The Olympics are supposed to be world Games, not a Snow-World Games. If we wanted to watch people in layers struggling through snow and falling over, we would visit any of the areas afflicted by the polar vortex. I know that people from icy, frigid climes want to be good at something, too. But we don’t have to humor them.
6. Even the weakest summer sports are more interesting than some of the strongest winter sports. Synchronized swimming goes neck-and-neck with ice dancing. Beach volleyball? Who can even contend with beach volleyball? Slalom? Slopestyle? Bob Costas said of the latter that “I think the president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville. Because basically this stuff is just ‘Jackass’ stuff they invented and called Olympic sports.”
This being said, I love ice dancing and figure skating. They offer all the fun of gymnastics without any of the guilt over the participants all being 12.
5. The barrier to entry is higher. You don’t have to pay the equivalent of amusement park admission every time you go jogging. In fact, you don’t need fancy equipment. Contrast this to skiing, where one cannot even wear cotton on the slopes without being yelled at.
4. You can’t tell whether the participants are attractive because everyone is wearing layers that make them look like those dancing windsocks outside used-car dealerships, or Power Rangers. “That’s good, because I don’t want to be distracted from the athleticism by lustful imaginings,” was seldom said by anyone.
3. The Opening Ceremonies are just not up to snuff. Half the point is to leave spectators baffled and alarmed. The Opening Ceremonies at recent Summer Games have been infinitely weirder. No one knew what was going on in Beijing or London, and that was as it should be.
2. Star caliber. The Summer Games gave us Ryan Lochte, Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney. The list goes on. The Winter Games gave us Apolo Anton Ohno, whose last name is literally “Oh no!” because his forefathers must have known he was going to try to bring back the soul patch.
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog at washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost.