The PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games have sports fans around the world on the edge of their seats.
And rightfully so – they represent a coordinated global effort to forget our differences, join arms, and for a brief but glorious time, bring members of every nation together in harmony to celebrate the best that humans can be.
Except Russia. They’re not invited.
Of course, no one cares about any of that. No, what people truly love about the Olympics can be quoted straight from Conan the Barbarian, who tells us what is really best in life:
And in this age of gender equality, we can hear the lamentations of their women and men
I think what people really love about the Olympics is the pure competition. Olympics fans get hardcore. Even non-sports-fans get into it. We all know someone who couldn’t care less about sports, but when the Olympics roll around, there they are tuning in at some awful hour and getting super into the ski jump or whatever. They get high on victory, they’re devastated by defeat.
Forget the teenager who spent her entire childhood training, only to fail in front of the whole world. It’s the fans you have to feel for.
And I must admit, I’m part of that pack. Sometimes though, as I watch athletes compete in some sport I’ve never heard of 10, 000 km away, I wonder – why do I care about this? It’s not like I’m a huge fan of pairs figure skating, or the luge, or that weird event where people ski around shooting things with rifles. Why do I care?
Seriously, what the hell is this? Where did that broom come from?
Sports fans in general know the second-hand thrill of victory and pain of defeat. This comes from a sense of group identity with your sports team and fan base. Humans evolved as a social species, and group warfare was (and still is) common throughout our lineage. People are still most comfortable when part of a community, and sports give people the chance to embrace a group identity and compete with other groups without actually having to fight a battle.
Unless you’re a fan of literally any team in Philadelphia
The Olympics bring this to a whole different level. You can ignore your local baseball team not putting the shuttlecock in the end zone or whatever, but when your Olympians fail, your country loses face at a global level. National pride is wounded. Which may explain why a Canadian speed-skater received death-threats from Korean fans after beating the unified North/South Korea skater for the bronze.
“Our speed-skater came in 4th! Surely nothing worse could happen to the people of North and South Korea” – Korean Olympic fans
This could also explain why the American men’s hockey team trashed their Olympic Village rooms after losing in 1998. Or why the Russian and French judges colluded to fix the 2002 figure skating results. Or why Russia implemented a country-wide doping program in 2014. Or why a Russian curler may lose his bronze for doping, like, last week. Losing hurts even more at a national level. Also, apparently Russia really wants to win at the Olympics.
Get ready for the newest team at the 2020 Olympics: The Olympic Athletes from the Olympic Athletes from Russia
One study even found that sports fans’ testosterone levels rise about 20% after winning and drop 20% after losing, giving an actual biochemical correlate behind the smell of victory and the sting of defeat. Other research shows that fans’ own self-esteem is linked to their team’s success. It’s why fans say “we won” when their team wins, but “they lost” when they lose.
And why Cleveland Browns fans hate their lives so much
This all gets more internalized during the Olympics, which is why I found myself cursing bloody murder at some judge’s mother after ruling that the Canadian half-pipe snowboarder’s ankles didn’t make a full 270° rotation. Or something, I really don’t know how that event works. Or any of them. Doesn’t stop me from rage-screaming at my TV.
“What do you mean she didn’t land the Triple Salchow on the outside edge, judge!?! I’LL SLAUGHTER EVERYONE YOU’VE EVER HELD DEAR!!!”
The take-away from all this is that it’s okay to let yourself be seduced by Olympic competition. That puzzling allure is actually your long-dormant sense of national pride coming to life. Bask in the shared glory that a gold medal brings. Get fired up over the bobsled or Nordic combined or, God help us, curling. It’s your time to strengthen your group identity with your country.
“Yes! Curl it! Curl the curling puck! Hit the yellow one! YEAH BABY WE’RE THE KINGS OF THE WORLD!!!”
And if they lose, screw it. They lost, not you.