I know I'm supposed to root for the home team, especially now. Rooting for Americans in the Olympics is ingrained in us from the time we reach consciousness. Rooting for Americans is part of our national ethic, a moral obligation like supporting the troops, and for a time it seemed proper. Cheering for Mike Eruzione and the boys in 1980 seemed like the natural precursor to the teardown of the Berlin Wall.
But the magic is gone. It has been gone for some time, but now the Olympics have become a cliché, the standard anachronism, a pseudo-sporting event for people who really, really miss the Cold War.
The greatest moments in the Olympics involve patriotism -- Jesse Owens showing up Hitler, the '72 Russian basketball team and the rigged clock, the 1980 U.S. hockey team. If there's no political backdrop, what's the point?
The insignificance of this year's games became clear during the Opening Ceremony. (See, we still capitalize these things, for no apparent reason other than misty-eyed tradition.) The unending parade of one-athlete countries, Ethiopian cross-country skiers and Bermudan speed skaters, guys who live full-time in America yet finagle a way into the Olympics through some obscure bureaucratic loophole, makes you realize just how much of this big wide world couldn't care less about the Winter Olympics.
What does Eritrea (and I'm making this up, I think) care about some speedskater who grew up in Vermont but has Eritrean ancestry and created the Eritrean Speed Skating Federation in order to become eligible for the Olympics? It's safe to say that skater has his own problems, and split times in the 1,500 aren't among them.
The problem is deeper than that. Too many Winter Olympic sports are starting to look like drunken dares, and the others are decided by crooked judges. I don't mind the X Games, because I get the X Games. They are what they're supposed to be, and they aren't for people who graduated from high school before 1998.
But the Olympics still try to flaunt the purity of competition and the nobility of sport. And I try, I really do, but then I look at the snowboard dudes and realize I don't like looking at them when they're hanging outside the grocery store riding their skateboards with their underwear showing, so why should I like them just because they've found a way to do their tricks in the snow?
This Week's List:
• After the Italian women's hockey team's losing by a combined 26-0 in the first two games, a pertinent question arises: What's a more dangerous avocation, Italian women's goalie or Dick Cheney's hunting partner?
• Remember the good old days, when soccer was going to be the next NASCAR?: On Sunday, the New York Times proposed the idea of bullfighting being the next NASCAR.
• Apparently, the New York Times knows there has been a big run on Confederate flags at bullfights: The fact that NASCAR was ever the first NASCAR is troubling enough, without it becoming the benchmark for future fad sports.
• You know you're good when: Like Adam Morrison, you routinely hit shots that nobody else would even take.