Dare to Ask: Emotions of Olympic proportions
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why do other countries take the Olympics so seriously? For example, the
female of China's doubles figure skating competition took a major fall. She
cried, he cried, the coach cried. She got back up, finished her run and got
second place. Is it really that big of a deal?
Have you never seen American Olympians cry? Not just "other countries" take
it seriously. Imagine you were in the NBA and didn't play several times a week.
Instead, all you trained for was the national championship, and your team only
made it every few years. If that was the focal point of your career and it
didn't go according to plan, would you be upset?
Chibi, 28, female, Houston
The Olympic Games is an event where you find the best athletes, and so to
them it is a big deal. Just like the teams competing in the Super Bowl.
Katrine H., 23, Odense, Denmark
I think it's more dependent on how seriously the athletes and coaches take it
rather than which countries they are from. With four years of preparation and
anticipation - and then to have hopes dashed in an instant because of one
mistake, and to know they may never get another chance - I might cry a bit, too.
Anne, 23, Iowa City, Iowa
No one is saying we all don't get worked up over the Olympics. Remember the
worldwide furor in 1972 after people noticed archery hadn't been in the event
lineup since 1920?
Olympic athletes from all countries can get jacked up or burst into tears,
said Orin Starn, professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University who
teaches a course on the anthropology of sports.
"We all have seen images of American heroes crying on the victory stand - or,
in Marion Jones' case, crying when forced to admit to steroids."
What may skew our impression of other countries' athletes is our notion of
the stresses they are under, he said. "We tend to have this idea, going back to
the American rivalry with the Soviet Union, that athletes of other countries are
products of sports machines, under pressure . . . to uphold the values of their
system, so that when they lose, they feel the weight of the world."
It's generally not the case, Starn said. An exception is China, which hosts
the Games this summer.
"For [China] it's about proving they've arrived and are major players. The
stakes are high, and that's where you see the skaters cry, the coaches
Of course, TV networks focus on the dramatic images of the Games, which also
may skew our perceptions toward thinking other countries are unusually focused
on Olympic performance, Starn noted.
"In general, the opposite is true. Other people tend to care less about the
Olympics than we [in the United States] do. You're more likely to see dancing in
the streets, weeping if a team loses, riots and the whole country living and
dying with a World Cup soccer game than with the Olympics."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
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