Today's Olympics lack the political drama of yesteryear
Before the Berlin Wall fell, the Olympics were considered, to adapt Clausewitz, politics by other means. Occasionally this was explicit, such as when Cold War opponents boycotted each other's Summer Games in 1980 and 1984. But when enemy countries did agree to participate, geopolitical overtones permeated the Games and produced some of the more memorable Olympic contests. More people tuned in when more was at stake.
Nothing viewers are likely to see in Turin can compete with the bloody 1956 water polo match in Melbourne in which the Hungarians defeated the Soviets weeks after the Soviet army had crushed an uprising back in Hungary. Or the 1972 basketball game in Munich in which the Soviets, with considerable help from the men in stripes, handed the U.S. team its first ever loss. And should the U.S. hockey team meet Russia in a medal round next week, no one expects the drama of the Lake Placid "miracle" of 1980.
Moreover, "team" sports are no longer the draw they once were, having been displaced by viewer interest in individual achievement. Judging from the media coverage, Americans this week were less concerned with how the U.S. mogul squad did on whole than whether freestyle phenom Jeremy Bloom lived up to the hype (he didn't). After figure skater Michelle Kwan bowed out of the competition due to an injury, a fan was quoted in the Washington Post saying, "So what's the point of watching the Olympics now?"
Like the NBA, the Olympiads have morphed into the ultimate individual games. A few holdouts may be distressed that the American male snowboarders won only two medals in the half-pipe competition, after sweeping in Salt Lake City four years ago. But most of us seem more keen on whether Bode Miller will come through in the super-G, whether the goateed speed-skate demon Apolo Anton Ohno can win the 1,000 meters after flubbing the 1,500, and whether Lindsey Jacobellis's hot-dogging cost her the gold in the women's snowboardcross final yesterday.
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