As I watch the Winter Olympics this year, I'm struck by how much coverage is given, not to the events themselves, but to the backstories of the athletes. We've been treated to a peek into their lives, their intense training, and their deeply held dreams. I care more and watch sports I previously had little interest in because of the depth of the athlete's committment to their goal.
As a fiction writer, I understand the psychology. A reader's involvement with a character is directly proportional to the intensity with which the character wants something passionately. But the Olympics aren't fiction. They're real life.
And this year, real death.
Nodar Kumaritashvili, the 21 year old luger from Georgia, has been laid to rest. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that there were decisions made in the design of the luge track at Whistler that were intended to make it commercially profitable after the Games, but ended up creating the fastest, most dangerous slide run ever.
Nodar confessed to his father that the track scared him. I usually think fear is a good thing. It's designed to keep us from folly. But my DH had a different take on things. He says a man can't let fear stop him when he's trained so hard, and devoted so much to something. (BTW, the DH is a private pilot, so he knows a thing or two about gut-checks. Lots of guys start ground school, but bail when it's time to solo. I may be a sniveling Beta myself, but I do love my Alpha!)
And it's not just the guys taking extreme chances this year. Last night, I had to look away as 4 women took "agony of defeat" falls on the downhill run (another example of a run that's too steep, too icy, with dangerous curves and to top it off, in washboard condition! Note to future Olympic committees: It might be good to make sure you site the Winter Olympics in a place that consistently has record snowfalls!) I was terrified we were going to witness someone's death or life-altering spinal injury. By the end of the competition, the women were so grateful just to have reached the bottom of the run in one piece, they all started collapsing in near hysteria.
I don't want to take anything from Lindsey Vonn, who won the gold medal. She is the poster girl for playing hurt and not letting an injury impact her performance. But I think some of the other medal contenders pulled back after watching multiple competitors lose control at the same point on the run. They turned in slower times than if the run had been in better condition and not seemingly designed to induce catastrophic accidents.
I worry that in search of better, stronger, faster, we're pushing our athletes to take unparalleled and unnecessary risks. And there is an element out there that relishes disaster. The decision to air the training run that took Kumaritashvili's life was the wrong decision. I've taken pains to insure that I haven't seen it out of respect for the young man and his family.
I'm all for competition. I applaud the Olympic spirit. But I don't want to see our modern Games degenerate into a Roman colosseum mind-set. We don't need gladiators to entertain us.
Maybe I should start watching curling . . .