5 Reasons the Winter Olympics Are the Best Olympics
The 2014 Winter Olympics kick off exactly three weeks from today. You know who's excited about that? Not a lot of people. I am, though, because in my honest and expert opinion, the Winter Olympics are way more entertaining than their beloved sibling, the Summer Olympics. That's something you can hear me talk about on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast.
Joining me are my friend and Cracked co-worker Soren Bowie ...
Seen here in the image that made him famous.
... and special guest Annie Lederman.
You've seen her on Chelsea Lately and heard her voice in Grand Theft Auto V, and now you can listen to her explain how she'd remove Soren's beautiful skin before tossing him in a body of water to die (among other things). It's super good times.
We kick things off by talking about this very article and why the games in Sochi could be the worst ever, no matter how fucking fun the giant slalom is to watch. Give it a listen while you read along!
And now, here are five reasons why the Winter Olympics are the best Olympics.
There's No Figure Skating in the Summer Games
Figure skating is my favorite Olympic sport of all time by a wide margin. Specifically women's figure skating. Well, "specifically" is the wrong word here. I should say "exclusively." I exclusively enjoy women's figure skating. Sorry if that sounds sexist, fellas, but there are just some sports that suit one sex better than the other. Figure skating requires grace and elegance and all that other shit the Brian Boitanos of the world don't possess. For some reason, watching men figure skate always feels like a parody to me. Like I'm watching an outtake from Blades of Glory or something.
So I guess it's more a personal preference than anything. Whatever the case, if you ask me, I say it just does not get better than women's figure skating when it comes to Olympic events.
For one thing, it's almost impossible to predict who's going to win. Favorites mean nothing, because all it takes is angling your ankle 1/16 of a degree in the wrong direction for it all to come crashing down. No matter how great you are, if you jump in the air with blades on your feet and land on ice enough times, you're going to fall. And make no mistake, it's what happens in the Olympics that will determine how the rest of the world views you for the rest of your days. Want me to prove it? No problem.
Quick! Name the greatest Asian-American female figure skater of all time. I included the "Asian-American" part more as a clue than anything, and I'm guessing it led a lot of you to yell out "Kristi Yamaguchi" as your final answer.
Bobbleheads are for finishers!
Don't get me wrong, the Guch was pretty good. She won the figure skating world championship twice and the U.S. championship once.
Not too shabby, but it's not shit compared to Michelle Kwan, who racked up an astounding five world championships and eight U.S. championships on her way to becoming the most decorated women's figure skater in U.S. history.
Those are Tom Brady numbers, people. Except they aren't. They're more like Dan Marino numbers, because for all her accomplishments, there's one thing Michelle Kwan never managed to do. Unlike Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan never won an Olympic gold medal. Yamaguchi took home the highest of all prizes in 1992. Meanwhile, Michelle Kwan choked her way to a silver medal in 1998 and a bronze in 2002, losing the gold to lesser known teammates Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes.
More like Sarah ... Who?
Outside the Olympics, Kwan was probably the greatest U.S. figure skater of all time. Get her inside an Olympic ice ring, though, and everything just completely fell apart every time, usually as a result of nothing more than a missed landing here or there. Favorites lose in other sports, of course, but in figure skating, "favorites" might as well not even be a thing. Ice is a fantastic equalizer in a competition that requires accuracy and precision.
Also, how about those costumes in figure skating? I'm not being a pervert here. I can see women with exposed legs without watching the Olympics. No, what I like is that, without fail, at some point someone is going to show up in something absurd and quite possibly racist. Like when that pairs team from Russia showed up to the 2010 Olympics in "Aboriginal" costumes.
So are these not accurate then?
The outrage surrounding that decision erupted almost immediately, but they escaped with a medal anyway, because the Winter Olympics do not give a fuck about your feelings.
Gymnastics tends to be the most watched event during the Summer Games. The gymnastics finals in 2012 was the seventh most watched sporting event of the year, trailing behind five NFL playoff games and that year's opening ceremonies, but also coming in ahead of five other NFL playoff games and the BCS national championship game.
For all intents and purposes, figure skating is the gymnastics of winter. The defining characteristic the two share is tension. Unlike events like swimming or the 100-meter sprint, where all participants compete at the same time, with figure skating (just as it is in gymnastics), the competitor you are pulling for does their thing, hopefully in a manner that puts them in medal contention. And then ... you wait. You wait and you watch and you hope that chick from Japan shatters her ankle trying to execute a quadruple salchow, because if she doesn't, your country will lose.
Every single thing that enemy combatant does well feels like a punch in the stomach. Everything they fuck up feels like a victory. Even if the person you want to win isn't performing at that moment, you're still personally invested in what's happening, because you need everyone else to fail. It's like watching an entire season of competitive sports unfold in one night. It's goddamn fantastic.
Also, figure skating gave the Winter Olympics its last real cheating scandal. That might sound like a bad thing, but it's not. Scandals and corruption, as awful as both may be, make for great television, and they're in short supply at the Winter Games, because ...
The Winter Olympics Are Slightly Less Corrupt
Slightly. That's the operative word here. Sure, the Winter Games have had their share of judging controversies, and no one thinks the International Olympic Committee is on the up and up, no matter the season. There is one brand of corruption that, for the most part, is nonexistent in the Winter Games. I'm talking, of course, about performance-enhancing drugs.
On the surface, it might not seem that way, especially when you pull up the Wikipedia page that documents all of the drug scandals that have infected the Olympic Games throughout the years.
The only source I trust.
Judging from that, it would be tempting to argue that the levels of cheating must be pretty well balanced across the two events. It's not like there are any Winter Games left out of that list. Click around for a few more details, and the difference becomes obvious. Here's a list of the drug scandals that tainted the 2012 Summer Olympics in London:
Now, check out the same list from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver:
Fluke? Nope. Here's the same comparison using the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing and the 2006 Winter Games in Turin:
If I had to give an opinion, I'd say the disparity can probably be chalked up to a matter of equipment. Almost every Winter Olympic sport requires the use of things like skis, skates, and bobsleds, all of which perform exactly the same, no matter the amount of anabolic steroids coursing through your veins. There is nothing about steroids that will help you land a triple toe loop or maintain the control needed to ski down a mountain without veering off course.
The only equipment required to participate in the Summer Olympics are a pair of shoes (even those are optional) and a functioning human body. That leaves all sorts of room for a drug that increases your physical performance to supply you with an unfair advantage. Again, though, you can't feed steroids to a luge. All the drugs in the world aren't going to keep that thing on world record pace if you don't operate it perfectly.
Of course, if you're out of control on a luge, you have way bigger problems than finish times. Because ...
Winter Olympics Events Are Super Dangerous
If we're only counting deaths during competition, the Winter Olympics aren't outpacing the Summer Olympics by much in that tragic department, holding a meager 4-3 edge. Here's the thing: Deaths during the Summer Games (those that don't get made into an Eric Bana movie, anyway) are generally caused by heat. As it turns out, there's really only one way to die during the Winter Olympics as well, but you will have to make one important decision: What are you going to crash into at a high rate of speed to make it happen?
As stated previously, there have been four athletes killed during practice or competition at the Winter Games. Of those four deaths, 25 percent were caused by the slightly terrifying vehicle pictured above, which is called a snow grooming machine. Fine, that only amounts to one death, but I'm not including the Austrian team doctor who was killed when a collision with another skier sent him flying underneath the unforgiving weight of a nearby grooming machine, crushing him to death instantly.
The biggest killer at the Winter Olympics is the luge, which took someone out the first damn year it was an Olympic sport, in 1964. Those are also the games that claimed the life of 19-year-old downhill skier Ross Milne, who crashed into a tree. You probably still remember the other luge death, which happened at the last Winter Olympics when Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili took a corner way too fast and was thrown over the sidewall of the track, striking an unprotected steel beam.
If you think I'm going to put a funny caption here, you're a monster.
What makes the Winter Games so much more perilous, obviously, is ice. There's a reason we don't like to drive on that stuff, and that's because when you start going really fast, it becomes nearly impossible to stop moving. All of the dangers inherent to the Summer Olympics can be defeated with electrolytes and proper hydration. The only thing you can do to keep yourself safe during the Winter Olympics is not fuck up, and if everyone did that, we probably wouldn't watch in the first place.
Participation Requires a Bigger Investment
One gigantic difference between the Summer and Winter Olympics is the financial investment required to participate. Sports like track and field or swimming don't require fancy equipment. You'll need to find a track or pool to practice at, but those are everywhere. As long as you're fast enough, you can compete, basically.
That's not the case with the Winter Olympics. Even the sports you'd expect not to be that expensive are costly enough to be outside the reach of most Americans. For example, in this interview, the mother of a competitive figure skater estimates that she spends an average of $800 a month just to keep her kid in the game. Skates, costumes, ice time ... it all adds up. And there we're talking about a sport that doesn't require anything even close to this ...
Cool Runnings joke!
That's a bobsled, and chances are you don't own one. Who does? That's what I've always wondered about sports like this one. How does a person even try to become a competitive bobsledder? Not only do you need a bobsled, but you also need to find three other friends who are just as good at it as you are. Gathering that kind of talent all in one place at the same time to pursue a common goal must be unspeakably hard to do. Basically, every gold-medal-winning bobsled team is the Olympics version of the Beatles.
Even if you line up an ice-ready bobsled and round up three friends who all look good in rubber body suits ...
Cool Runnings joke part two!
... there's still the matter of coaching. Chances are your high school or college has a gymnasium with basketball courts, a running track, and maybe even a swimming pool. In addition, there's probably a track or swimming team you can join. Do you remember your high school having a competitive figure skating team, though? How about a bobsled squad? A varsity giant slalom squad? Probably not, but if you want to excel at any of those sports, you need to start at an early age and stick with it your entire life. That requires a coach, and they don't work for free.
All of this adds up to make the Winter Olympics a remarkably exclusionary experience. For the most part, it's going to be the kids of super rich parents who excel enough to reach the Olympics. Poor people who dream of winning a gold medal on the luge are shit out of luck, and I fucking love that. If you think that makes me an asshole, you're right, but probably for the wrong reason.
... And That Investment Inevitably Goes Up in Flames
I grew up poor. Very poor, at some points. Growing up that way tends to make a person kind of bitter when the talk turns to rich kids who get whatever the hell they want. It's hard to imagine, at least among the U.S. competitors, that this wouldn't be an appropriate explanation for how they got to where they are.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they didn't work hard. Obviously, becoming "Olympic-level" good at something takes a lot of work, no matter what activity we're talking about.
Except curling, of course.
I'm just saying they wouldn't even have the opportunity to put in that much work if there wasn't some sort of wealth in the family, and, you know, fuck that noise. It's easy to be the best when the majority of the population can't challenge you.
Still, I just said in the previous entry that this is what I love about the Winter Olympics. What gives? It's simple. There's just something about knowing that I get to see privileged kids squander their parents' fortune in a way that breaks both of their hearts that makes me really look forward to the Winter Olympics every four years.
Except hockey, of course.
The Summer Olympics are filled to the brim with athletes who got there only because of talent. Their sport is open enough that anyone with a desire to try it can participate, and anyone with enough skill can excel. You don't have to be wealthy, you just have to work hard. Having the socioeconomic system that rules America break in your favor is not necessary. I like that a lot, and I want those people to succeed, but not nearly as much as I want to see their Winter counterparts fail.
In short, I don't watch the Winter Olympics because my patriotism necessitates enjoying the men's speed skating finals. I watch the Winter Olympics to watch rich people's dreams die every fucking night for two solid weeks.