A still from the NBC coverage of Adelina Sotnikova's surprising winning skate at the 2014 Olympics.
There are two ways to succeed at sports: by being memorable, or by winning.
Note that one achievement does not necessarily imply the other, and that in some sports the two can even be mutually exclusive. In a year’s time, ask the average American which athletes medaled at the bobsled events in Sochi, and then if they can remember which country’s lovably low-ranking bobsled team was the focus of the movie Cool Runnings. (Jamaica’s two-man bobsled team also qualified at this year’s games, ultimately finishing dead last. Now, quick: tell me who won the gold.)
Sad as I am to write this, it must be said: the Olympics are almost over. Part of me is thankful for this, as I’ve watched more hours of TV in the past week than my body or brain can adequately handle. As always, I have found the Olympics to be patronizing, exhausting, and simultaneously bloated and skimpy. And I also know that I will be desperately sad to see them go.
The most competitive sport in the Olympics, I would argue, is storytelling. Everything from the opening ceremony to the national uniforms athletes wear is carefully planned to create a specific story about the unique identity of countries (I'm not sure what story Norway's curling team uniforms are telling, but I know it would for sure involve a sweet soundtrack).
This show explores the spectacle of Olympic narratives. First, figure skating enthusiasts Andi Zeisler and Sarah Marshall talk about media coverage of female figure skaters, specifically revisiting the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan scandal. Then, I dig in to how Olympic host cities make themselves over to create a shinier version of themselves for the international spotlight. Finally, we talk with Russian queer studies scholar Roman Utkin on the impact of the Olympics on LGBT politics in Russia.
Before you tune into the Olympics next week, listen to the show and excerpts below! A transcript is below the cut.
Ashley Wagner is a two-time national champion who missed qualifying for the 2010 Olympic team by a hair, a story that was emphasized by the background commentary in this year's Nationals. Her nerves were apparent at the Nationals, and her long program seemed irrevocably marred by two falls. But Wagner was a lock for the Olympic team for one crucial reason—what NBC, the network broadcasting the Olympics, needs more than champion skaters is a good story.