Every two years a rash of severe colds and fevers pop up around the world, and fortunately it’s not the flu. It’s the winter and summer Olympics. And with those Sochi games right around the corner, what better time to root for your country? Cheering for your country works great with some of the more traditional events like hockey, speed skating, and curling, which have more of a team atmosphere. What about individual sports like freestyle snowboarding and skiing, where Olympians are placed on a team based solely upon rankings and nationality?
To most, it all glazes over into shades of national colors. They see freestyle skiing and snowboarding once every four years, if they don’t happen to be watching NBC on a random, winter Saturday afternoon. Aside from some of the big names, they could care less about the individuals, and more about rooting for their country. The average viewer watches the Olympics because it gives them something to cheer for, new national heroes for the talk show circuit, and a reason to get behind their country’s flag. Others watch for an excuse to play drinking games based around cliché announcer phrases and medal distribution.
This nationalistic frenzy isn’t all bad though. For one, millions of people are being exposed to these “action sports” for the first time, and seeing them on primetime television might be just what they need to give them a try. The other, somewhat ironic, thing is that these fringe sports have been some of the biggest draws in terms of both viewership and popularity. Maybe it has to do with the high-flying, and the multiple flips and spins going on, or maybe it goes back to the sports’ individuality that breeds these characters that fit so well into the mainstream media.
Since skiing and snowboarding are such individual sports that the most famous athletes are recognized less by their sponsors, any kind of team, or even their nationality, and more as a brand in and of themselves, based on their talent. Take a look through any endemic magazine or watch any video and you’ll see skiers and riders off all nationalities. A lot of time, an athlete’s nationality isn’t even mentioned and most fans seem to align their allegiance based more on the individual’s talent and personality, and less on nationality.
So what happens when your favorite freestyle skier or snowboarder competes for a country other than your own? It’s not a problem that a lot of Olympic spectators have, and reality not that much of a problem in the big picture. For sports with so many avenues and such a loose definition of who is “the best”, the Olympics aren’t necessarily the penultimate contest of skill, but just another bump in the road. And while cheering for that Canadian athlete in a crowded sports bar full of red, white, and blue might garner some odd looks, go for it. Because a couple months after the Olympic hangover has been subdued with some Aspirin and water, that nationalism will flare up again during this summer’s World Cup of Soccer—and a team sport like that is something everyone can get behind. USA! USA! USA!