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Jaywalking

Jaywalking: Chowing down on Olympics

I groggily turned the alarm clock off at 7:30 on Saturday morning and lay back down in bed, stared at the ceiling a moment to gather my wits, and grabbed the television remote to turn on the 32-inch Vizio that sits atop a bedroom dresser.

Welcome to the world of the 2014 Winter Olympics, where viewing events live means staying up very late, or rising early. And if you work a regular day job, it likely means only watching tape-delayed events in prime time. Yet here we are, over a week into the Games, and the Olympics are everywhere. People at work talk about things they’ve seen, and you hear about it from friends and family. It’s a wonder how passionate we all get over these events, which we otherwise have little time for in non-Olympic times.

I’ve been taking in Olympic events for over a week now. Many feature athletes broadcasters spend time promoting, knowing 95 percent of the viewing audience likely has no idea who they were prior to the start of the Games. Sure, you might be able to catch figure skating or downhill skiing on occasion on a Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. after the Patriots play, but the only way it’s going to end up on my television is if I unintentionally forget to turn it off. I’m not much of an X Games guy, either, so I see very little snowboarding. And if you know of a station that shows bobsledding, luge, cross-country skiing or biathlon on during a non-Olympic winter, send me an e-mail.

Yet we watch, then watch some more. The 2012 Summer Olympics in London were the most-watched event in U.S. history, with 219.4 million Americans tuned in. It helped that London is just six hours ahead of us, which meant we were able to watch a number of events live, and even the tape-delayed stuff was fairly fresh. This year, events are beginning when I am just heading to bed. It’s not as convenient to watch. Ratings for this year’s Winter Olympics are down from the 2010 Vancouver Games, but that’s understandable, since Vancouver was the perfect place to hold an Olympics and make it easy for the U.S. to watch. But even though the ratings may be down slightly, many people are still watching.

Have you ever heard of Meryl Davis and Charlie White? Me neither, before I heard the announcers talking about the duo as the faces of U.S. pairs figure skating. After the closing ceremonies, I likely won’t hear about them again until four years from now. That’s assuming they have not been supplanted by two younger skaters who have given up their entire youth to make a run at Olympic gold. Maybe that’s why we watch. It’s more about all the what-ifs, rather than the accomplishments. As I took in figure skating the other day, it was mentioned that two skaters from Australia had been practicing together since they were 8 years old. They were now in their mid-20s. After their set, they were seeded fifth if I remember correctly. Oh well, no medals this time around. Kinda like they had no normal childhood. Sure, they have probably won events that no one has ever heard of. But just imagine if you put your heart and soul into something for your entire life, giving up so much, to finish fifth at the Olympics. It’s a wonder that people still go to such lengths.

And sure, there are some who transcend the sport and actually become household names. Tonya Harding pulled it off when she hired someone to club Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Shaun White pulled off the feat with the help of his red hair. And Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn have both managed to become popular, although they are known as much for social activities as their on-slope exploits. But for every White, Miller and Vonn, there are hundreds more who no one has ever heard of or will remember. If you can name a snowboarder not named Shaun White or a skier not named Bode Miller of Lindsey Vonn, you are either the parent of one of the other Olympic snowboarders/skiers, or you work a job related to the sport.

And then there was the day I watched both cross-country skiing and the biathlon. I wasn’t drinking or drugging. I actually sat down and watched both events. Even had my better half, Heather, come in and join me. She made a snarky comment at first, struck in disbelief by what I was watching, but soon she was glued, too. If the same event was taking place next winter, I would change the station in a heartbeat. But it’s the Olympics, and for some reason, I can’t turn away. Even when I had to leave for work, I stood in the doorway for a moment before turning the TV off. Me, Jason Butynski, glued to a cross-country ski race. I thought about calling my priest to see if he had heard any messages from God about Hell freezing over.

I also freely admit that I’ve watched a good deal of curling again this year. Even queued up two full matches On Demand. One day, I found myself breaking down what a choke job United States curler John Shuster was performing for the second straight Olympics. Yeah, I’m now breaking down Olympic curling like I’m some kind of an expert.

In the end, I suppose there are many reasons why we watch. For some, it’s the drama of watching people who have sacrificed huge chunks of their lives to train for their one big moment in time, and all it takes is a little slip-up to ruin everything. For others, it’s about nationalism. We root for our country. Maybe some feel like co-worker Chris Curtis, who called it “The pinnacle of human achievement.”

For me, it’s a guilty pleasure. Just something different to watch. It’s fun for two weeks, but when it’s over, I’ll hang up my hat and not pay attention to any of these sports for another four years.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com.

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