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Watching the Winter Olympics

Feb 15th, 2014 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Nick KemperThe Winter Olympics are here. I don’t know why I love the Olympics so much. I don’t know why I’m compelled to watch Women’s Curling DVR’d at 2 a.m. (is this the beginning of the End, this web or the end of the End?). This is the first Olympics since we got satellite TV and DVR service at our house. I’ll be lucky to survive as anything more than an extra from the Walking Dead. I’m not kidding. I’m recording everything on four channels, store and I’m trying to somehow watch it when I get home from work each night. Weekends are dawn to pre-dawn. I already know more about the scoring system of team figure skating and the warm-up routines of female lugers than a human ought to know.

Olympic athletes are getting more talented every Olympics. I can tell because I didn’t see a single disastrous crash during the men’s downhill or the men’s normal hill ski jump. Maybe the abnormal hill ski jump will provide something spectacular. One woman cracked her helmet in snowboard slope style with a wicked backward fall, but got up and finished the run.

I have noticed a decided difference between the coverage shown on NBC and the other support networks — CNBC, MSNBC, NBC Sports and USA. For one thing, the coverage on other channels is not filled with extended interviews, introspectives and general overexposure of U.S. athletes. You get to just watch the events, and you actually see who the sledder from Kazakhstan is. Also, some of the announcers are very good. I had no idea that NBC has its own announcers for the figure skating, apart from the announcers on CNBC, who were Terry Gannon, a former basketball player, and former skaters Tara Lipinsky and Johnny Weir, who were excellent. The guy calling the cross-country skiing with Al Trautwig was totally bonkers, which made the finish of those events extremely exciting to watch.

Another very refreshing thing about the Olympics, especially in 2014, is how egalitarian they are. I’ve watched more women’s sports in the first week than men’s sports. Maybe they front-loaded all the women’s sports, I don’t know, but women athletes, coaches, and commentators don’t play by traditional sports rules. They’re unpredictable. They have fun. They like competition, and they like their competitors. Pierre Maguire asked the U.S. women’s hockey coach who she was going to play at goaltender the next game, and she told him, and she told him why she was starting a different goaltender from the last game. Maguire reacted with extreme gratitude, right there on the air, “Thank you, coach. NHL coaches never tell us stuff like that.” One line on the team was diagramming plays on a white board between shifts — just the three of them, no coaches. Plus, the women are prettier than the men.

I don’t binge-watch TV shows. I record a couple shows every week, and I usually watch them before the next one records. This is my time to binge-watch — the Olympics. I’ll be watching into April, I think. And I don’t even care if I know who wins an event before I watch it. It’s still fun to watch. I love rooting for the underdog. I’ll probably secretly pull for Finland to upset the U.S. in men’s hockey, and I didn’t mind it at all that Bode Miller finished 7th in the men’s downhill. Serves him right for being too cocky. Anything can happen on an icy hill at 80 mph.

I love that the old guy from Italy won a medal in the same Luge event for the 6th time. I love that some of the women’s hockey players are in their mid-30s (my 19-year-old daughter started playing last year — maybe she’ll make the 2028 Olympic team). I even love the Ameritrade commercials that show video of an Olympic athlete running back in time, starting with now, going all the way back to the first time they got on skis, or skated, or slid down a slide.

If competing on the field of sport isn’t one of the most profound human activities, then I don’t know anything. Why do you think so many of our metaphors in business, in life, come from sports or athletic competition? Sports is not just a diversion. It’s too bad we can’t work it into business in a fun way. The Snatch Block Toss. Or Long Reach Fencing. Or Chain Gymnastics (based on Ribbon Gymnastics, but the chains aren’t as long as the ribbons.)

Celebrate the Olympics. Is doesn’t come around every year.

Nick Kemper