Have we outgrown the Olympics?
A generation ago, the buzz would have been building and the rest of the sports world would have slowed, if not stopped altogether, as eyes turned toward Sochi, Russia.
The grace of figure skating, the drama of ice hockey, the sheer adrenaline of alpine skiing — the American contingent became our instant heroes for a fortnight, folded into the pageantry of world competition.
Today, it seems, the Olympic flame that once burned in our sports soul is all but extinguished.
Name an Olympian. Really, go ahead. Lindsey Vonn may be the recognizable name in this quadrennial U.S. group. She’s not there. A knee injury kept one of the world’s best skiers home. (In a recent interview, Vonn said she is looking forward to spending Valentine’s Day with her “teddy bear,” Tiger Woods. Gag me.)
X Games star Shaun White already has pulled out of one snowboard event, citing unsafe course conditions.
The most recognizable figure might be hurdler Lolo Jones, who is debuting with the U.S. women’s bobsled team.
But the Olympics is not necessarily about individual stars going into the Games. It is about the pageantry, international competition and the emergence of moving athletic drama. You cannot script much of what happens; you just have to appreciate the moments as they unfold.
More than anything, it is a message of harmony and stability in a chaotic world. That is something we all need to hear.
NBC is ready to tell the story. The network will air 1,539 hours of coverage on its various networks, including CNBC, USA and NBC Universal Sports. Let’s put that in perspective. If you went to work each day and did nothing but watch Olympic coverage, it would take nine months to get through it all.
Local affiliate WTHR-Channel 13 has pulled out all the stops, sending a five-person crew.
The question is whether WTHR will be a landing place for those of us who hold the remote controls for the next two weeks.
In past decades, there was little question that it would. But that has changed. Or has it?
Talk to many local sports fans, and they will tell you the Olympics has lost its luster. There are many reasons to agree. The plethora of broadcast sports outside the Olympics make these just another viewing option for fans, although certainly a special one. Fans of the premier sports, ice hockey, figure skating and skiing, already see plenty of action each season.
Social media will play a huge factor, too. Certainly, Twitter and Facebook may help build some excitement for the games. Many of the telecasts will be available live via apps.
But the nine-hour time difference also means that the day’s events will be over before most of us go home from work. The prime-time broadcast will be a repeat of what fans already know. That puts a premium on storytelling if the network is to draw sports fans away from college and pro basketball.
Finally, the location itself is problematic. Sochi, along the Black Sea in southwest Russia, is near flashpoints for terrorist activities, sparking warnings to tourists and athletes alike. Will that added danger be a draw or a turn-off for viewers?
Still, NBC hopes its record payment for broadcasting rights to a winter games pays off. It spent $775 million. Past ratings suggest it’s worth it. The network expects to earn $1 billion in ad dollars from the Sochi games.
Maybe NBC is right. Maybe, as the first events unfold this weekend, we will revert to our once-every-four-years tradition and get caught up in what remains the most fantastic spectacle in sports.
Let’s remember, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics were a ratings bonanza, even knocking “American Idol” from its top spot for the first time in six years. Unlike single events, the Games’ appeal seem to grow as the days roll on.
The Olympics are unique in this respect. The gathering of the world’s youth is a rare moment when the world comes together in a moment of athletic bonding.
That Olympic dream, while tattered a bit, still is something special. Perhaps more than ever, given the challenges Americans and the world face, the Olympics are a reminder that we still do share one planet with 6.8 billion others who are not really that different from us.
We all aspire to do something really special. And we all cheer those who are able to reach for something extraordinary.
So, yes, maybe we have tired of the Olympics a bit, as we have been saturated with sports programming.
But the message that it brings — that we can all somehow get along in world where discord seems pervasive — is a message that never gets old.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.