COOL COOL

People of the Southern Hemisphere: Here’s how to give a damn about the Winter Olympics

I am a human being with eyes and a beating heart, and so I love the Olympics. What is better than the Olympics? Well, nothing. The opening ceremony. The pleasure derived from watching godlike men and women perform incredible feats of skill and endurance. Feuds. Athletes crying from joy/disappointment. Athletes being nervous. Athletes being so beautiful, all of them. The knowledge that, as we speak, many amazingly sexy activities are taking place in the Olympic Village.

I am a South African though, and so the Winter Olympics present a higher barrier of entry to enjoyment than the Summer Olympics do. I grew up in Durban, a coastal city where the commencement of winter means carrying a light jumper around, “just in case,” and wearing jeans without fear of being overcome by heat-based claustrophobia. The last time I saw snow was on holiday in Croatia, and I got so excited, I cried. I have never so much as touched a pair of skis, or been in the same room as a snowboard.

There are a few solid reasons to be personally invested. There is a single South African competitor (Connor Wilson, Alpine Skiing), who I am obviously obliged to root for. Africa is not a country, and I would never contribute to any discussion that encourages this perception, but I will be supporting all 13 African athletes competing this year. Still. It is difficult for me to naturally relate to what is currently underway in Pyeongchang. It seems very snowy and intense there, and I don’t know what Alpine Skiing is.

Peter Penz and Georg Fischler of Austria celebrate winning silver in luge at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Totally relatable. (Reuters/Edgar Su)

Nevertheless, I am committed to extracting maximum entertainment value from these Winter Olympics, and have developed some strategies by which this can be achieved. Even if I don’t understand why luge and skeleton and bobsleigh have to be three separate events, or why no satisfactory explanation has been provided for the fact that “skeleton” is just pronounced in the ordinary way, with no effort to indicate to the naïve that this is not a sport where skeletons compete against each other, or how all the ski jumpers remain alive after participating in an event that seems designed with a view to killing everyone involved, I can still have a good time. You don’t need to know anything about winter sports to enjoy ice skating, for instance. I love how in curling they are constantly screaming at each other, and how those screams get increasingly desperate and indecipherable as the game progresses. Athletes are, as already mentioned, attractive and fun to look at.

Below are some further suggestions regarding how those of us in the Southern Hemisphere might participate in the joyful viewing experience that is the 2018 Winter Olympics:

  1. Doping Scandals

Systemic doping is an ever-refreshing source of fascination—see Kei Sato, the Japanese speed skater who was just given the first doping ban of the games. There is always something new to be interested in, even if you don’t know anything about winter sports. The opening ceremony offered the opportunity to imagine the tortured decision-making process that resulted in the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” compromise, which seems like such a cop out, but which was obviously reached only after protracted and intense negotiation. The feebleness of the compromise, and the official insistence on referring to Russian headquarters as “Sports House” (paywall), is sharply contrasted by the Russian fans’ ferociously patriotic refusal to admit any wrongdoing on the part of their athletes. They don’t care at all. They are here to be Russian, and to win, and to scream the national anthem at max vol whenever they can. More hotly-disputed bans and doping dramas will surely follow.

Anna Duskova and Martin Bidar of Czech Republic in action at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
As if it weren’t interesting enough. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)
  1. Recent Developments in Ice Skating Music

The decision to allow music with lyrics in all four ice skating disciplines was apparently made in order to make ice skating seem cool again. “Cool.” “Again.” People don’t love ice skating because it’s cool—we love it because it’s beautiful princes and princesses swirling magically around and reminding us that dreams can come true, as long as you have money, devoted parents, and a manner of comporting yourself that meets the standards of the snotty judges. Anyway. There’s music with lyrics in ice skating now, and that means we all get to listen to an indefensible big-band cover of Wonderwall, as well as enjoy the fact that three separate teams have chosen to ice skate to Despacito. You don’t need to be from the Northern Hemisphere to think for a long time about why someone would want to ice-skate to Ed Sheeran. Why would they? So many songs exist, and there are so many ways in which music can enhance an ice-skating routine and make the audience fall in love with the performers, and still: Ed Sheeran.

  1. It’s Very Very Hot At The Moment

It is 33°C (91°F) in Cape Town right now. It’s hot, and we are running out of water. One side of my face got sunburned yesterday when I was sitting in traffic.In Australia, the brains of little baby bats are literally boiling in their skulls. (Australia in general seems too hot for human life, and it is difficult to imagine how anyone gets anything done.) Summer is only good if you’re on holiday, and we are not on holiday now. We are dry and arid and distressed. Watching people enjoy themselves in the snow is not the same as actually being in the snow oneself, but it’s still pleasing to the eye. Think of it as the visual equivalent of lying in a bath full of ice cubes, which is what I wish I was doing right now.

Happy watching, Southern hemisphere pals!

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