The Winter Olympics for Britain means finishing a "creditable" 65th in most events. Indeed, keeping track of the British athletes requires a separate box on the screen: yes the 1st, 2nd 3rd places are on display, but then we also have a special box where we Brits learn how far behind the leaders our athletes are trailing. In fact we have only really produced one famous winter Olympian: Eddie the Eagle.
Despite Britain's lack of success, I love the Winter Olympics. Let's face it, the Summer Olympics are boring as fuck; running, cycling, and even walking in circles over miscellaneous distances seems less the pinnacle of human perfection than a two week long exercise in torturously dull television. In contrast, the Winter Olympics, while technically undertaken in along the same Olympic principles, is like a one month trip into the psychedelic dream-world of criminal genius lunatic.
Now, I realise that this might not resonate with Norwegians to whom launching oneself down steep icy hills on two narrow bits of plastic and then shooting stuff appears perfectly natural. Indeed, looking at the medal count, Norwegians probably like it because they are remarkably good at it. However the Olympics has a unique appeal to the wider, non-snow-expert audience that Norwegians and Scandinavians do not seem to recognise.
First, while the Summer Olympics technically involves pushing human performance to the limits, the Winter Olympics goes much further, and then some. This is because seemingly most winter Olympic events contain some flying-human component. Yes, flying; humans aren't meant to fly, but one would not know this from watching Sochi. Ski-jumping itself is basically a tribute to human capacity for defiance and blind optimism; it is hypnotic watching these humans hurling themselves one after the other into the sky literally giving an elegant V to rationality, gravity, and anyone on the ground who might consider their sport a dangerously bad idea. I do not know exactly how the Winter Olympic committee decides on new events, but nothing new seems to get in without a giant ramp or three with which to launch people from. And this brings me onto the next brilliant thing about the Winter Olympics.
The almost permanent prospect of death is ever present in most winter Olympic events. Usain Bolt may run very fast (well done Usain), but he is unlikely ever to crash. So while his speed-feats are sort of impressive, they pale in comparison the way the remarkably cheery kamikaze downhill skiers, bobsleighers, snowboarders face their doom whenever they practice their hobby. Indeed, the best bit of the Norwegian coverage is when TV tells the family story of the Norwegian ski-jumpers: specifically whenever they show old pictures of 5 year olds shooting off ramps, while their proud parents watch in the background, blissfully oblivious that in most countries they would be liable for child neglect.
Utilization of household objects for sport
But even if watching humans try to fly does not appeal, you can always switch over to curling, an event that has somehow managed to turn brushing into a sport. Like everything in the Winter Olympics, I love imagining how it was conceived. Presumably sometime around 1900, some bored peasants were sitting around one cold January morning looking for something to do. All they had at hand was rocks, ice and brushes and so, curling was born. But curling also has important social benefits, providing a source of escapism for depressed housewives and housemen who thanks to curling can imagine they are in the Olympics whenever they are doing the kitchen floor.
The final element that marks the superiority of the Winter Olympics is the open gang culture. The Skiers and the Snowboarders clearly dislike other. And, like all good gangs - the Mods and the Rockers, the Bluds & the Cribs, the Jets & Sharks - they take great care to differentiate themselves from their rivals by clothing. The Skiers are perfectly pragmatic in their condom-suits optimized for everything except style. The Snowboarders meanwhile, to whom aero dynamism would also be an obvious advantage, have collectively decided that they would rather go baggier and therefore slower, than win dressed like the enemy. Indeed, the Snowboarders are almost unique in global sport in the way they have privileged style over speed. This irritates the Skiers who look down on snowboarders like the AA on alcoholics, while the Snowboarders, clearly having too much sex to care, consider skiing about as cool as a dad at a wedding disco. Sadly, the Summer Olympics lacks this gang subplot, and are instead all united by a dull homogeneous professionalism.
In sum, what is not to love about the Winter Olympics? What other global event combines flying, brushes, guns, and gangs? None, and thus nothing compares. The only downside to this year's event is that it is being held in Russia. But even that seems to have had a silver lining. Indeed, the event has provided a unique opportunity to shine a light on the Russia's anti-gay laws, bringing protest to the country in a manner that would otherwise be impossible. Moreover, the impressive array of online memes mocking Putin, surely cannot have passed by a man with such an ego without irritation. Indeed, it is always amusing to see how vain leaders' desire for the prestige of hosting large scale sporting events frequently ends up biting them in the ass.
"Putin on a Purple Horse" Courtesy of Hja, Norwegian culture in English
Ultimately, it seems obvious that if the Summer Olympics expects to survive it needs to learn from its weird winter cousin. That is why in Rio 2014, I dearly hope to see Usain Bolt running along in baggy trousers with a brush strapped to his back.