THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Cold shoulder: Winter Olympics don't light US fans' fires

And Bode Miller's back in action...

With everyone's attention on the Super Bowl (how about Porter's interception?), there hasn't been much hubbub surrounding the upcoming Winter Olympics. Along with advertisers, some people have forgotten about the Games— although, of course, lots of folks just don't give two figs about them at all. But in all probability the lack of excitement is most likely because many people actively, completely– and often histrionically– detest the Winter Olympics.

Four years ago, Bryant Gumbel gave voice to his own personal hatred of the Winter Olympics on HBO's Real Sports by skewering them during his sign-off commentary. I wrote a response to his diatribe, and as those arguments have not changed, I'd like to present it again on this Olympic eve. Perhaps those who hate the Winter Games will come away with a new perspective, if not appreciation.

Written in honor of the Winter Olympics, February 8, 2006

For all his knowledge and insight into the world of sport, Bryant Gumbel took a huge hit to his credibility and reliability on this week's program. In his sign-off commentary, Gumbel attacked the Winter Olympics in Torino, now just a week away. In his evaluation, he lambasted the games as "events no one cares about except for two weeks every four years." He described them as dull, boring, racist, expensive, and essentially a media ploy to fill time slots. 

He bemoaned the dearth of actual sports in the Winter Olympics, spoke with vehemence about the know-nothing sportscasters, attacked the events for bearing no resemblance to the original Greek games, and stated no one in America cares to see them. Gumbel told his audience he didn't plan to watch the games and is merely marking time until March Madness when "real sports" again take the stage.

Of all the narcissistic, egomaniacal, self-important.... One can't argue some of Gumbel's points; it's true Americans don't know or care about many of the events in the winter Olympics. It's true black athletes number far fewer in the winter games than the summer, and U.S. sportscasters couldn't name the top biathlete if you doubled their salaries. But there the truths come to a full stop. Perhaps if Gumbel left his ivory tower once in a while, he might learn the Olympics are games for the world, not just America.

In Poland, Ukraine, Sweden, Russia, the Netherlands and most other European countries, winter sports take center stage. Poland's greatest modern hero, Adam Malysz (pronounced mow-ish), is not a politician but a ski jumper. He took silver at the Salt Lake City games and entered the competition as the reigning World Cup champion. All of Poland comes to a standstill when Malysz is on television, and he's easily the most famous of that country's athletes, his popularity on par with that of Michael Jordan.

Skiing competitions began in Norway in the 19th century, but Nordic individual competitions didn't enter the Olympics until 1988. On the cusp of the 2006 Winter Olympics, the story on everyone's lips was the ugly feud between double world champion Ronny Ackermann of Germany and gold-medal favorite Hannu Manninen of Finland. Ackermann was issued a written warning from the FIS for attacking Manninen with a pole after losing a World Cup race to the Finn in December. That's a lot more interesting than a points war between Kobe and Shaq any day.

To Bryant Gumbel I repeat that not all the world lives in sunshine and swimming pools. The Olympics hosts winter games because in many countries winter lasts much longer than summer, and sports must take place on snow and ice or not take place at all. The majority of countries that dominate the winter games have very small black populations, so obviously the majority of their athletes will be white. 

Europeans take the events very seriously, and never a day goes by without news of their athletes. Europe lives and breathes their winter heroes, and it wouldn't hurt Gumbel to acknowledge America's lack of prowess in these world-class competitors. 

Soon enough, the Summer Games will be here, and American athletes will again dominate the headlines. I wonder if Gumbel will then bemoan the lack of European competitors in track and field. Will he criticize the Olympic committee for including basketball, a sport surely not played in the original Greek games? 

Sports are about excellence, and it's pitiful that Americans– according to Gumbel, at least— choose to ignore events we don't dominate. As much as I'd love to disagree with him on that point, I get the feeling he's probably right.


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.