A question for you: Have you watched any of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games at this point? Yeah, you knew I was going to ask you about the Olympics, what with the title of this post, the logo to your right, and the “BOOM! Boom! Buh-BOOM! Boom!” coming out of your TV set. Since Pyeongchang, South Korea is now in the second half of its Olympic fortnight, I thought I’d highlight some interesting notes about I’ve watched and read about the Olympics.
Perhaps the most notable aspect of these Games that I’ve noticed and taken a routing interest in is the performances of LGBT athletes in Pyeongchang. This article from The Advocate gives a nice summation of the performances by out athletes up to this point, but I’ll do a quick summary of what are perhaps the two most noteworthy feats, both of which happen to be in figure skating. First, there was out skier Eric Radford of Canada, who with skating partner Meagan Duhamel were part of the gold medal winners in the team competition and later won bronze in the pairs competition. It’s a bummer that both Eric and Meagan are retiring from competitive skating, but they are certainly going out on a high note.
Then there was American figure skater Adam Rippon, who finished 10th in the men’s event (and did so with a flourish) but earlier won bronze with the U.S. group in the team event. Adam has gained notice during these Olympics for his performance on ice as well as maintaining a high profile and for his witty remarks, most notably his reaction to You Know Who’s homophobic second in command heading up the Team USA delegation at the opening ceremony. (No wonder Sally Field wants her son to date him.) It’s Adam’s bright profile that drew the interest of NBC, who extended an invitation to Adam to serve as a correspondent for the remainder of the Games. But then Adam learned that accepting NBC’s offer meant that he couldn’t stay in the Olympic Village with his fellow athletes, nor could he march with them in the closing ceremony this coming Sunday. Because of that, he politely declined the offer. And bravo to him for doing so. I’m sure doing TV work would have been a rewarding experience, and I’m sure he could do fine media work beyond the Games (someone already in NBC’s employ, figure skating commentator Johnny Weir, will attest to that). But it would have felt like a corporate power co-opting Adam’s Olympic experience. It’s his time in the sun; let him enjoy it as he sees fit.
I’ll mention a moment from one other out athlete later, but while we’re on the subject of NBC… Well, let’s just say that not every network carrying these Olympics back to their home countries will do everything perfectly. So it (always) is with NBC. If it’s not showing an event entirely live, it’s presuming a downhill race was over then treating the eventual winner as just another quick highlight package. And if it’s not an awkward remark about The Netherlands’ speed skating reputation, it’s the matter of pronouncing the host region of these Games, Pyeongchang. At least as far back as November, NBC advised its on-air staff to pronounce it as the “cleaner” (their term) “pyong-CHANG.” But be warned: That’s not the proper pronunciation.
So, if you’re watching the Olympics on NBC and hear the host or commentator — or anyone who’s not on NBC — pronounce Pyeongchang as “pyong-CHANG,” they’ve been heeding the wrong guidance. The Asian American Journalists Association has the proper primer, which is what I’ve embedded below. It’s actually “pyoung-chahng,” as in “say ahh.” (Even a reporter from the NBC-owned station in Boston gives a pronunciation that’s not the same as the full network’s guide.)
I want to recall 12 years ago, when NBC had that year’s Winter Olympics, they more often than not pronounced the Italian host city the way the locals did — Torino, not Turin. (The network’s logo even had it as the former.) It’s a shame that here in 2018, the network’s guidance for its staff is akin to how an “ugly American” might handle it (“I’ll do it my way; who cares what the locals think”). Now that I know how it should be pronounced, I’m not taking NBC’s lead: If I see “PyeongChang” on the screen, my mind will gravitate toward “pyoung-chahng.” Hey, it’s good linguistic practice, and it’s how the locals say it.
Getting past pronunciations, what Winter Olympic sports that you’ve watched so far have you taken a shine towards? One sport that leaves me scratching my head is nordic combined, where competitors must first perform a ski jump then have to cross country ski for 10 kilometers. For some, it’s like a Reese’s peanut butter cup (“two great tastes that taste great together”). For me, it sounds like mixing peanut butter with cauliflower. But, being the sports fan I am, I’ll likely watch at least a little bit of it should it air on TV… because, dagnabbit, it’s the Olympics and I should watch it because it’s my duty as a citizen of this planet to watch it. (Oh, wait a minute…)
Yeah, I’ll watch nearly anything and everything during the Olympics, be it nordic combined, the true beauty of ice dancing (which just happens to be on TV as I write this), or these three events I’ve always had a keenness for watching during every Winter Olympics:
Sliding sports. This is the catch-all term for luge, skeleton, and bobsled. Watching the Olympics as a kid, I always got a kick out of a luger, slider, or bobsledder pushing their sled down the turns and curves of a sliding track. Think of it as riding the roller coaster at the amusement park, only doing so in the middle of winter. Pretty cool thrill, isn’t it?
Short track speedskating. I had a chance to watch short track in person several years ago, when a weekend event was held here in Madison (Apollo Ono was among the participants). And watching short track in person was just the same as watching it on TV at the Olympics ever since it joined the Olympic program in 1992: A thrill-a-minute combination of speedskating, auto racing, and demolition derby, all done on an ice surface roughly the same size as a roller derby track. Watch it just once and you’ll be hooked.
Curling. Uh uh, don’t dismiss it as “shuffleboard on ice.” Don’t mistake it either for one of the proud alums of dear old Whyioughta U. There’s a lot of thinking being done on that sheet of ice: How much of a touch to put on sliding that stone. How hard to brush the ice ahead of that stone. Where that stone should actually go. True story, (and I swear to you this is the truth): I work at the same company as a previous member of the U.S. Olympic Curling Team. Though their team didn’t take home a medal the year they competed (indeed, they didn’t make it to the medal round), they were just as proud to have been a part of the Olympic experience. They were also proud to have helped introduce their sport to the unenlightened both in our company and throughout the country and the world. Check out curling if and when you can this last week of the Olympics, and I’m sure you’ll be mesmerized by it.
Two other athletes at the Peyongchang Olympics that should be highlighted: One is Chloe Kim, who you see pictured above with the gold medal she earned in the women’s halfpipe snowboarding event. Not to use any sort of cliche or label here, but Chloe is sort of an American melting pot: She is Korean-American (her parents are from South Korea), she’s from Southern California, and she is still a teenager. Chloe is remarkably upfront about reconciling her status as an American citizen with her ethnicity, embracing the former while celebrating the latter. She has also been upfront about those who challenge her citizenry, thinking she is an emigrant and not the natural-born American citizen she is. Through it all, Chloe has handled the challenges and criticisms with remarkable grace and aplomb, and she should be celebrated for that as much as for her gold medal, if not more so. Jessica Prois of Huffington Post has a great opinion piece about Chloe Kim at this link; it’s worth the read.
Then there is the other openly LGBT athlete I promised earlier: Gus Kenworthy. The freestyle skiier may not be bringing home a medal (he wound up in 12th place in the men’s slopestyle event), but he has conducted himself with dignity as one of just two openly gay men on the U.S. Olympic Team (Adam Rippon is the other).
Two things about Gus Kenworthy that should be noted: One, he hasn’t shied away from criticizing You Know Who and his lead henchman for their anti-LGBT stances. Also, he hasn’t dared to keep his LGBT status in the closet, as evidenced by his kissing his boyfriend before a qualifying run. On live TV. (Take that, You Know Who.) Kudos to him for not being afraid to be himself, as well as conducting himself with dignity. Kudos, too, to all the other Olympic athletes who conduct themselves in the same way; their positive conduct is worth much more than any gold, silver, or bronze medal.