I’m absolutely not ashamed to admit it: we loooove us some Olympics. Summer, winter, doesn’t matter – the pageantry, the history, the amazing feats of athleticism, the sappy TV-produced backstories – I love every single bit. I’ll cheer both the underdog and the world record-setter; I’ll cry over the heartbreak and the triumph; I’ll avoid online updates so that I can watch the events on TV. Just hearing the Olympic theme (actually titled “Bugler’s Dream,” which I am so totally teaching my students about) brings goosebumps – which, while overdramatic, is not an exaggeration.
For two magical weeks, the world comes together* and laughs and cries and cheers its ass off, and it is Nick’s and my absolute most favoritest thing.
* unless they’re being boycotted, and then we don’t come together, and it sucks. But I digress.
* true story: my dad and stepmom’s sister-in-law (married to my stepmom’s brother) is a crazy-amazing, world record-holding swimmer who was favored to win gold in, like, six events at the ’80 Moscow Games… but then the US boycotted the Games and she, along with all of our athletes, got totally screwed. She did, however, win a silver medal at the ’84 Games in Los Angeles. She regularly sends Annie and Ella her daughter’s hand-me-downs, and they think that wearing clothing that was touched by the same hands that have held an Olympic silver medal is maybe the coolest thing ever. But I digress more.
At age two, Ella couldn’t exactly understand the 2006 Winter Games (Annie, at two months old, probably took in even less, but perhaps my own new-baby brain fog is clouding my memory). I seem to remember them tumbling about the living room emulating the gymnasts during the 2008 Summer Games, but it wasn’t until the winter of 2010 that they really got the Olympics – or, at least, they got that their Mommy and Daddy were batshit excited over something on the television.
Watching the opening ceremonies is akin to the Super Bowl or the Oscars ’round these here parts, and I vividly remember tucking in with the girls for the Vancouver celebrations. For reasons that escape my memory, Nick was out of town, so it was just the girls and me. The coverage began at 8 p.m., which was at or past the girls’ bedtime, but I reasoned that this was such a special occasion, it warranted the privilege of staying up late. I anticipated that Bob Costas would welcome us, his eager audience, to the games – and then, after a few pomp and circumstance montages (during which I would cry), we’d be whisked away to the start of the ceremonies. I figured, if I let the girls stay up until, say, 9 p.m., they’d be able to catch some of the pageantry.
As the broadcast began, we piled into the reclining chair, all three of us, so that I could keep them close and explain the fantastic things they were about to behold. There was Bob – just like I’d imagined! – welcoming us to the Games; surely the ceremonies were only minutes away. THE EXCITEMENT!!!
What? Don’t you wear bathing suits in the dead of winter to avoid getting paint on your clothing when you make a bigger-than-you GO USA poster?
But then, without warning or preamble, the tone of the broadcast shifted dramatically. I was mid-sentence, likely doling out some Canadian history tidbit or maybe explaining (for the 37th time) what the Olympic rings symbolized, so I didn’t really register what Bob was telling us… Something about an accident… A practice run… The tragic death of a luger from Georgia (near Russia, not near Florida)…
It was the word “death” or “died” that suddenly piqued the girls’ interest, and they turned toward the television screen to see what had happened. I was still trying to process what Bob was calmly explaining, like a doctor giving an expectant family bad news in the waiting room. Someone died? Is that what Bob just said? A luger? Is that the technical term for someone who does the luge – luger? When did this – wait, did someone die? I thought we would be seeing the opening ceremonies by now…
… when BAM!, my processing was interrupted by video footage of the poor Georgian luger hurtling down the luge track… then flying off the track (leaving his lonely sled behind)… and then, horribly, smacking into an unpadded metal pole, after which he lay crumpled on the ground, surrounded almost immediately by paramedics and spectators.
Okay. Hold the phone.
Did we seriously just watch someone die on national television? When we were supposed to be seeing the opening ceremonies of the damn Olympics? Instead, we just watched someone die right before our eyes? AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN WARN US to maybe, I don’t know, look away or even just be prepared, because you are about to watch another human being die???
Horrified at what had just unfolded before us, I tore my eyes away from the screen, hoping, by some miracle, that Ella and Annie had not really been paying attention… and found them literally – almost comically – open-mouthed, staring mutely at the television. Turning back to the TV, Bob was now showing us photos of this athlete in happier times, then photos – closeups – of him lying in a heap beside the track. Is that – oh my God, is that blood on his forehead?
“Mommy? What happened to that man?”
“Why did he get hurt?”
“Is he dead right there?”
“But you said that there would be singing and dancing!”
Before I could answer their barrage of questions, NBC was airing the video again! There he was, racing down the track… Oops, there he goes, off to the side… SMACK!, now he’s down…
There was no avoiding their questions; it’s not like I could pretend that they hadn’t seen what they’d just seen, because there we all were, gaping intently at the television, poised with excitement and rapt with attention. And there was Bob, telling us exactly what had happened (so there was no possibility for doubt), and there was the video. Again. AND AGAIN.
I reasoned that, surely, the coverage of this terribly sad and unfortunate event would dim and we’d be seeing the opening ceremonies any moment now… but no. LUGE LUGE LUGE. By the third showing of the accident, I knew enough to place my hands strategically over the girls’ eyes so they wouldn’t have to witness the horror anymore (which, don’t get me wrong, was indeed awful and undoubtedly newsworthy… just maybe not so much in primetime when we were expecting prancing maple leaves and festive mounties). I answered their questions as calmly as I could – physically turning them toward me so they couldn’t see the TV screen – and then began talking up other parts of the Games.
And there will be skating! And hockey! And something called snowboarding with a guy who has wild red hair! Did you know that there’s a crazy event where you ski and then shoot a gun? Should I be talking about guns? WHY NOT – WE JUST WATCHED SOME GUY DIE! The Olympics are so much fun!! LA LA LAAAAA!!!!
As nine o’clock rolled around (yes, we kept “watching” because I reasoned that they would switch over ANY TIME NOW), we still hadn’t seen any of the opening ceremonies, but I promised the girls that I was recording the broadcast and, tomorrow, I would show them the highlights. They could not wait, let me tell you.
Eventually, the ceremonies did start, and I watched the coverage for the rest of the night. At least once an hour, there would be a break so that Bob could tell us again about the death of the luger – but I noticed, by the fourth or fifth announcement, that NBC had changed their presentation somewhat. “Be forewarned – the footage we’re about to show you may be graphic for some viewers. Children are advised not to watch.”
NO SHIT, SHERLOCK.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was bummed that her three and five year-olds had spent a cheerful family evening gathered around the television set to watch someone die.
Also, apparently NBC pays attention to Twitter and Facebook feedback.
By the following day, NBC had shifted its coverage entirely; they no longer showed video footage of the accident, and Bob even apologized for terrorizing us the night before. All well and good… but too little too late, Peacock. Are none of your producers parents? Or even just human beings? It’s the OLYMPICS, for crying out loud. THE OPENING CEREMONIES, not something potentially dangerous like slalom skiing or speed skating or, heck, even figure skating (okay, so a lot of the Olympics features potentially dangerous events, but I digress yet again). The most “dangerous” coverage we were preparing for that night were Proctor and Gamble commercials of mothers hugging their wee ones after falling on the ice rink. Instead, we got Evel Knievel meets CSI. MY CHILDREN CAN NEVER UNSEE THAT.
Or, at least I thought they could never unsee it. Like all good Olympics-loving families, we have been talking up the 2014 Games for several weeks now. In one of our recent discussions, I was reliving my incredulity over the 2010 “opening ceremonies” – laughing at what a horrifying gong show it had been, complete with lunging to cover the girls’ eyes – when it dawned on me that, four years later, they likely didn’t even remember it. A lot has happened since then; certainly they’d forgotten.
And so I asked: Do you actually remember any of that?
They were quiet for a moment, deep in thought, and then…
“No. I’m not sure that I do remember.”
YES. Childhood innocence restored!
“But wait… I think maybe I do remember it…”
“Were we all on the black chair together?”
“Was that the time with that guy on the little sled?”
“Weren’t we all cuddled together watching TV? Except Daddy wasn’t there?”
“And that guy fell off his sled?”
“And then he hit that thing? Wasn’t he bleeding?”
“Yeah. He was lying on the ground.”
“And then he died. We watched him die.”
NOPE. CAN’T UNSEE IT.
You might think this would have turned us off from Olympics-watching, but no. Oh, no no no. We are still rabidly pro-Olympics. And although we may be gluttons for punishment, we will absolutely be watching the Sochi opening ceremonies tonight. The girls’ bedtime is later now, so Nick and I are confident that, no matter how much air time is devoted to stories about terrorism threats and diverted planes and stray dogs and unfinished hotel rooms, they will still see at least part of the actual festivities.
And don’t worry, Bob. We’re still tight. Even with your unfortunate eye incident last night (yes, of course we were watching), we still adore you. You can tell us about someone’s death anytime.
But when you do, if you could just warn us a little, that would be great. Or at least sandwich it between sappy stories that will make me cry happy tears.
I’m hearing the theme in my head as I write this, which means I’m typing with goosebumps on my arms. But I don’t care – the Olympics are worth it.