Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Olympic Reflections

This year I have been particularly interested in the Olympics. I think it is from my bad habit of watching The Today Show every morning as I get ready for work.

When I was little, I loved the Olympics. I mean, LOVED. When I was five, I danced around in my basement pretending to be Katarina Witt. When I was nine, I snuck into my parents' bedroom while they were out to watch Midori Ito ice skate. I loved her because she was Japanese, and I am, after all, a quarter Japanese. And when I was 13, I watched the Nancy Kerrigan/Tanya Harding fiasco unfold.

But over the years, I have outgrown the Olympics. I became too busy with my own olympic aims: swimming, music, academics. Since I have a pretty light schedule right now, I thought it would be good to get back into the spirit of the Olympics.

Two things in particular have gotten me excited about the Olympics. My closest friends love watching figure skating, and I am always out of the loop this time of the year when they are all discussing major skating competitions. Hearing all of their excitement has made me nostalgic for the excitement I had for Katarina Witt, Midori Ito, and Kristi Yamaguchi. Also, the fact that their favorite ice skater is a Russian piqued my interest.

The second thing that has gotten me interested in the Olympics this year is TLC's Ice Diaries, a series that follows four young ice skaters who are Olympic hopefuls. None of them made the team, but it was interesting to learn more about the sport and it rekindled my admiration for ice skaters' physical ability. Also, the show did a good job of explaining what criteria skaters are judged on.

So, to the Opening Ceremonies. Much of the ceremonies were pretty boring. I couldn't help but switch to the ill-fated Arrested Development. I think that if I had been at the stadium in Turino, I would have found the ceremonies more interesting. But on TV the show lost its excitement and just seemed like a bunch of flashing lights.

The part that was great was seeing the procession of the athletes. I was inspired by the achievements of all of the athletes and you could see the pride on many of the athletes' faces in being there.

I thought it was interesting to see how many of the countries represented were part of the Soviet bloc. (This is the winter games, so the former Soviet bloc is at a geographical advantage--especially with the famous communist enthusiasm for athletics.) It seemed as though every few countries we saw a Moldova, a Belarus, an Uzbekistan. This representation made me realize (for the millionth time) how vast the Soviet bloc was. What a huge empire! What a huge ideology that swept across Eastern Europe and ravaged so many nations! I wonder what these athletes think as they go to the Olympics and are able to represent their own countries, rather than their colonizers. Do they feel pride? Do they feel relief? Do they miss being part of an empire that once dominated the Olympics? Or are they excited that they can actually be at the Olympics without having to beat out some Latvian?

On a similar note, it was very interesting to see the different Chinese delegations. Besides China, there were also Chinese Hong Kong and Chinese Tai Pei. My Taiwanese and Chinese friends explained that China wants to make an example of Hong Kong to show Taiwan that it, too, can be part of China but also have some independence. Judging from my friends' discussion, this has little potential of working.

It is interesting to me how much geography, culture, and international politics you can learn by watching the opening Olympic ceremonies. The Olympics are made into a big country-versus-country event, and I wonder how much athletes relate to that. I personally do not relate to it, although I consider myself a patriot. I often find myself rooting for Russians or whoever is the underdog. It is rare that I want someone to win simply because they are American.

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