Sunday, February 26, 2006

Closing Olympic Thoughts

The opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics are always a reliable combination of breathtaking and utterly spastic.

On the breathtaking side, there was Bjork's gown at the 2004 opening ceremonies in Athens. I was trying to explain this to my friend Patty tonight, but pictures do a better job. She came out wearing a tightly coiled mass of a dress, something that would look uniquely bizarre by any standard but her own:

As she sang, the dress somehow unfurled itself and billowed out over the crowd, covering most of the stadium:

It looked incredible. (It was even better when I realized that, for Bjork, this was the equivalent of blue jeans. For all I know, she still wears this out on the town, suffocating innocent bystanders whose last mortal thought is: "Cool dress.")

It's undeniably impressive to be an Olympic athlete, and they deserve a spectacle like this every time out. But tonight at the closing ceremonies in Italy, they were serenaded by Ricky Martin. This would have been inconsiderate in 2002. In 2006, it's a slap in the face. (Why couldn't Smash Mouth make it -- a prior commitment?)

Earlier in the night, hundreds of performers dressed as arty Euro-clowns and young female paratroopers (ah, the Olympics) took the stage, and danced to "YMCA" by the Village People. Am I the only one who thinks this disqualifies Europe from any anti-American sentiment for the next 50 years or so? I can completely understand complaints and wise cracks about our crass culture, but not when you choose to use your time on the brightest world stage to clumsily spell out the title of this song with your arms like every group of drunken baseball fans across the U.S.

I watched more of these games than I thought I would, which still meant only a few hours combined. I always poke fun at the whole endeavor when it starts, and then end up wishing I had followed it more closely. My lasting memory will be Shizuka Arakawa's gold medal performance in women's figure skating. I normally don't enjoy that competition, because as often as not, falling or another mishap is the only way to stand out from the crowd, and all clean performances seem too subjective to judge fairly. But Arakawa was so graceful and flawless that, for the first time I can remember, I had a strong opinion: She would've been robbed with silver or worse.



Blogger Dezmond said...

I watched only a small bit of the Olympics. The Winter Olympics are even less significant than the Summer games. Although the whole Bejing component will make the next ones mildly interesting. On Saturday I did watch a fascinating competition, though. Some sort of "biathalon" where they had cross country skiing where they had rifles slung on their shoulders and they stopped at various pit stops along the route to take five shots at targets, and every one they missed they had to take a "penalty" lap around this little track next to the target range. I'm serious. That was the competition. I am sure there is some great historical tradition of cross country skiing and firing rifles somewhere, but still. It got me thinking of some other great "biathalons" they could put together: how about cmbining the shooting with the figure skating? Through a 2 minute routine, they will also be required to carry a handgun and hit 5 targets placed in different parts of of the rink while moving on skates? That would be entertaining.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dez, I believe the biathlon-like event you witnessed was the "biathlon." And while the two events may seem incongruous, they actually relate to a long line of Nordic soldiers who -- for obvious reasons -- wore skis. According to the US biathlon website, skiing soldiers date back to at least the 1700s, and Finnish skiing soldiers held off the Russians in the 1930s despite being outnumbered 10 to 1. So the event at least has some history, as opposed to, say, short track speedskating or snowboarding.

--The Comish (sic)

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm, dez, I didn't mean that last post to be as snotty as it looks. Please understand my tongue was planted firmly in my cheek when I wrote that.

Incidentally, I'll admit that my passion for the Olympics has gone from silly (I didn't have a tv in college, so I spent nearly 2 weeks of my life in a windowless, basement room in a college dorm watching Jurgen Blitzen -- or whomever -- prove that he's the fastest man in the world in a luge, and I thought the whole experience was thrilling and utterly worthwhile) to sleepy (my favorite event this year was women's curling ... because I could nap while watching it, the women were often cute, and even the curlers seemed only marginally interested in who won).

But even when I had an irrational, jingoistic love of the Olympics, I still thought the Opening Ceremonies were generally silly, and the Closing Ceremonies were cringe-inducingly bad. They're like a cross between a high school band (think: "Up With People!") and the new, crystal meth-inspired modern art (think "Society's inhumane treatment of indigenous people is represented by the severed cow limbs"). Here are a lifetime of halftime ... er, Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies highlights:

1) Muhammed Ali lighting the torch (which I found captivating because they were glorifying an athlete a) who was exactly the kind of self-glorifying athlete the Olympics supposedly disdain; and b) who had so obviously been destroyed by his sport);

2) archer shoots flaming arrow to light the Olympic torch (a legimitately cool moment).

That's it. Other than that, it's all pageantry (read: "Funny costumes"), symbolism (read: "Archane allusions to things that don't actually exist"), and bad 80s songs (during the opening ceremonies, Bob Costas made a Kajagoogoo joke ... Bob Costas!).

-- The Comish (sic)

8:11 PM  
Blogger Dezmond said...

Comish, no offense taken, it's all cool. That was interesting. Like I said, I figured there was some historical basis for it, but just on the surface watching, it seemed very random to me. I am well versed in WWII history, so I know about Finland v. Soviets. But transferring all of that over to the Olympics is kinda funny, you have to admit.

Highlight for me: At the Sidney games the great, great Men At Work get to perform at the opening ceremonies before the entire world.

10:24 AM  

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