Winter Games' legacy won't be sore site

Posted: February 07, 2014

AS THE OLYMPICS begin, they present a confounding question:

What should we care about?

Four years ago, in Vancouver, it was simple.

There was Apolo Ohno, the multiracial icon whose speedy skating (and deft dancing) gave America its unquestioned darling.

There was Lindsey Vonn, a snow princess who did for ski outfits what Katarina Witt did for skating costumes.

Shaun White was relatively fresh and still somewhat refreshing.

There were Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the U.S. ice dancers who won a silver medal in 2006, trained locally and gave the world's best a run for their money before finishing fourth.

None will compete in Sochi this year . . . but then, will the venue diminish the event?

Should it?

Six years ago, in Beijing, as the Summer Games approached, China was upbraided for decades of oppression; for rampant human rights violations; for irresponsible environmental stewardship.

Six years later, few recall that the Chinese government obscured any real investigation into the knife attack at the Drum Tower that resulted in the murder of U.S. citizens Todd Bachman and the injuring of his wife, Barbara, who were in China with their former Olympian daughter, Elisabeth, to support their son-in-law, Hugh McCutcheon, coach of the men's volleyball team.

Everybody recalls the wondrous opening ceremonies in the Bird's Nest . . . but few remember that thousands of Chinese spent 10 months practicing in barbaric conditions to perfect the ceremonies.

Everybody recalls Michael Phelps' record medal run and Usain Bolt's insane speed . . . but the age controversy concerning those amazing female Chinese gymnasts? Not so much.

So, the questions are:

If the threatened terrorist actions do not materialize, will there be any memory of the terror they caused as the Games began?

If the Russian goon squads comport themselves with restraint in the face of inevitable protests, will Russia's oppression of LGBTs survive the winter's news cycle?

If no visitors - that is, first-world journalists - wind up in the hospital with dysentery, will the bad-water problems be washed under the bridge?


Barring disaster, what will be remembered is what happens, not the environment in which it occurred.

It will be the newly corporatized Shaun White and his gimpy wrist. The Flying Tomato, now 27, ditched the edgy Red Bull brand for the soccer moms of Target and, true to his new form, ditched the new slopestyle event after crashing and injuring himself. White, whose popularity spurred the inclusion of slopestyle, declared the course too dangerous, which prompted mockery from his competitors. He will only compete in the halfpipe, his signature event.

It will be Ralph Lauren model and 1,000-meter speedskater Shani Davis trying to make history again by becoming the first American man to win gold in the same event in three consecutive Winter Games. Davis became the first African-American to win gold at the Winter Games in Torino in 2006.

It will be lovely Gracie Gold, the 18-year-old U.S. figure skating champion ascending through her sport's ranks, trying to medal in Sochi and thereby catapult herself into the stratosphere once occupied by Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi. She already has the diva act down pat.

It will be these things because NBC will deem it so.

Despite the increasingly politicized commentary of aging host Bob Costas (anti-gun, anti-Redskins), do not expect the network to delve too deeply into the real-world issues that surround the sports.

Should it?

After all, there exist dozens of television channels and hundreds of online outlets dedicated to watch-dogging world's dictators and oligarchs and detailing their triumphs and misdeeds.

There didn't seem to be much interest, globally, when China suppressed Internet access during the Beijing Games.

The world collectively yawned at Beijing's obvious and deadly air-pollution issues.

Most viewers couldn't tell China-oppressed Tibet from its neighbor, Nepal, and most wouldn't know about either if not for Edmund Hillary's obsession.

And there is no real memory of any of those issues today.

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch


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