HCMC Dining Guide

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On Watching the Olympics Abroad

I've always been a huge fan of the Olympics, both winter and summer. Growing up, my family would watch as many events as possible, and little else was seen on our TV for those two weeks every two years. Recent Olympic memories include sitting, alone, in the apartment in Pittsburgh I had just moved into during the Beijing games and running around screaming when Michael Phelps beat Milorad Cavic by the tip of his finger to take gold; and rushing into an Applebee's outside of Pittsburgh as a friend and I were driving back from Atlanta in 2010 to watch the end of the thrilling Canada-USA gold medal hockey final in Vancouver (ice hockey happens to be my favorite sport).

Suffice to say then that I was pretty excited for the London games to begin. At first I was worried that there wouldn't be much coverage here, but there turned out to be tons. The two sports channels we get, Star Sports and ESPN Asia (based in Hong Kong) both had broadcasting rights and were constantly airing events. Since I work from home, this was amazing: I would get up, plant myself on the couch, and watch replays of the events that had taken place while Vietnam was sleeping. Then, in the early afternoon, live coverage started...so I would just stay on the couch and continue watching more greatness.

This was my first time being abroad during an Olympics, and it was an eye-opening experience. Coverage of the summer games in the U.S. focuses on the big three areas that America always does well in: swimming, gymnastics, and track and field. For some reason I just assumed it would be the same here. It wasn't.

While swimming still got a lot of play, the focus was, understandably so, on sports that interest Asian viewers. As a result there was approximately 437 hours of table tennis and badminton coverage. Honestly, I never knew there were so many different table tennis events, and after the first week I was wondering how the hell they could still be playing. It's also amazing that badminton, a game you play at barbecues in the U.S., can attract such rabid enthusiasm out here.

In case you didn't get to catch any of these events, the Chinese are animals. It seemed like every final was China vs. China, and one female Chinese table tennis player had one of the best names at London: Ding Ning. (First place goes to American indoor volleyball player Destinee Hooker, whose parents must be disappointed that she didn't become a stripper; and third to the archery match between a Korean guy named Wang and a Taiwanese dude named Dong. Yes, I am a child.)

Something else I learned is that not everyone cares about every American athlete when you aren't in America. Outside of superstars like Phelps and Serena Williams, most members of the U.S. delegation were just faces in the crowd. I'm used to Bob Costas' patriotic commentary for the big events, so this took some getting used to. Since NBC isn't shown here, we didn't get any heart-tugging backstories about, say, a gymnast from a small all-American town in Nebraska who beat the odds by somehow practicing every day while single-handedly caring for her younger brother who has Down's syndrome. We didn't even get any backstories on the big Asian athletes, it was always just, "well, here's some Japanese chick in a race. Let's see how she does."

That being said, it's cool to see how every country has its own heroes. When you watch the Olympics in the U.S., the spotlight shines so brightly on our homegrown stars that everyone else gets lost in the glare. People who mean as much to their country as Phelps does to the U.S. include Kazakhstan's Alexander Vinokourov, Malaysia's Lee Chong Wei, and Great Britain's Chris Hoy.

One of the great things about the Olympics is seeing how happy all of the athletes are to be there, and even though defeat may bring crushing disappointment at first, everyone eventually smiles again. Their countries are proud of them, even if they don't medal (though this doesn't seem to include Vietnam, where nearly every article on the team's time in London includes phrases like 'failure', 'empty-handed', and 'they really sucked'. OK, maybe not that last one. But no one seems proud that they participated.). Athletes from countries like the Marshall Islands are elated to be there, and you really just can't beat the theater that these two weeks offer.

Of course, I was rooting for the U.S. the whole time. I tried to catch all of the events that we traditionally do well in, and I checked the medal tally daily, waiting for the moment when we would overtake China in number of golds (which finally happened once track and field got underway, after China had piled up golds in the first week in sports nobody in America watches). The Olympics are always good for some old-fashioned patriotism, and I enjoyed simply cheering for our best athletes without worrying about all of the other crap going on in the States at the moment. I suppose that's the most appealing aspect of the Olympics: for two weeks you can forget about all of the depressing stuff and just watch the best athletes in the world do their thing. That, and the Dutch women's field hockey team. I'm already looking forward to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia. Where will I be watching the event from? I have no idea.


  1. I gotta agree with you about the Dutch women''s field hockey team. I watched a lot of it, but not for the field hockey :D. It''s interesting how sports shows the difference in culture huh? What we consider as a backyard barbeque game is a major sport in another region and vice versa.

    1. Yea, pretty interesting to see how that happens.