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Surviving February with the Olympics

Mary Claire O'Donnell | Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February has never flown by so fast. Usually, these 28 (sometimes 29) days creep by, stealing away all enjoyment once held in January at returning to campus and friends. Work finally begins to pile up, snow continues to fall, and the days just keep dragging. One enjoyable aspect of high school was always February vacation, a weeklong break over President’s Day instead of just a long weekend. It’s a New England phenomenon that really breaks up the monotony of February.
But here at Notre Dame, we don’t even have three-day weekends, so the idea of a February Break is a laughable one. This year, though, there is something almost as good as February vacation to get everyone through the winter doldrums: the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The 21st Olympic Winter Games have provided endless entertainment and distraction for the past week and a half. At almost every given moment, one Olympic event or another is playing, either live or on replay, on NBC, MSNBC, USA or another NBC syndicate. From ski jumping to pairs skating, half pipe to two-man bobsledding, the opportunities for viewing and cheering on the Americans are limitless.
But why do we watch all these events? Why do we allow ourselves to spend so much time watching sports we have never before cared about in our lives? If you’ve recently found yourself transfixed for hours by men’s and women’s curling, you understand.
The draw these random sports hold over us is inexplicable. Never before in my life have I cared about curling, and yet I can now explain many of the rules and even some of the stats from the round robin men’s match between the United States and Switzerland. I recently had a conversation with friends on this same subject. We all find ourselves entranced by sports like curling or speed skating, and we do not know why. It’s easy to understand our fascination with Shaun White and his gravity defying aerials, or the men’s Olympic hockey team and their stunning defeat of Canada, but not some other sports.
I think that a lot of it stems from the desire to be involved. The Olympics have been a major sporting event, uniting city-states and nations, since the times of the ancient Greeks. We all, on some level, want to feel included in this international event that puts our favorite television shows on hiatus for two weeks. We all want to feel some of the power and magic surrounding the Olympics, the aura and history. Watching every sport, no matter how boring ice dancing is compared to the men’s short program, helps us forge this deep connection to the Games.
Another thing people love about watching the Olympics is whipping out their ancient and possibly questionable family genealogy and basing their support for teams off of the family tree. You can’t just root for Team USA during the Olympics — though they should be your No. 1 — because sometimes the Americans do not make the competition or are not competing in the heat currently playing at 11 p.m. on MSNBC.
Instead, Denmark is competing against France in women’s curling. Obviously, you choose to support Denmark because you are pretty sure that your family is 1/16th Danish (or was it 1/20th?). Or maybe German skaters are neck and neck with the Swedes, and you, possibly 1/16th Danish, have never forgiven the Germans for taking the state of Schleswig-Holstein from your already tiny country. Obviously, then, you chose to throw all your support behind the team from Sweden.
No matter your reason for watching or for supporting a certain team, the 2010 Winter Olympics will be there on at least two channels whenever you flip on the TV, at least until Sunday. So thank you Shaun White, Apolo Ohno, Bode Miller, and all other Olympic athletes for helping us through February. It would have been a rough month without you.