Friday, February 17, 2006

SI.com Michael Farber: Russia gets an unexpected spark

SI.com Michael Farber: Russia gets an unexpected spark
Nice little piece on the Russian hockey team moving up the rankings after blanking Sweden 5-0.

I've tried to explain to some Russians why Americans don't care too much about the Olympics. Typically, our best athletes aren't competing in Olympic events; they have cultivated their skills to become professional baseball, football, basketball, or hockey players. And when our professional athletes do compete in basketball or hockey, typically the best ones aren't sent (due to multi-million dollar contracts and risk of injury) and those who do go seem less passionate.

A quote from the SI article above:
That's the difference between the Russians and the North American teams in the tournament, especially Canada. Canada first focused on the ring that came with the Stanley Cup; the Russians focused on the rings of the Olympic movement. Despite the failures of the past 14 years, Hockey Night in Turin stirs the Russian soul.

"I think everyone dreamed when we were growing up young guys," winger Ilya Kovalchuk said. "The Stanley Cup is huge, but Olympic Games, you play for the country. Millions of people in your country celebrate with you. I think for Russians, this is the most important win - the Olympic Games. Now a lot of [NHL] GMs say they don't want you to go, you might get injured. But it's our dream to play for the national team. And they can't stop us."


And from a Dan Wetzel article from yesterday:
TURIN, Italy - After Latvia and the United States tied in men's hockey Wednesday, after the passionate Latvian fans waved flags and danced in the aisles, after the vast majority of remote controls in the U.S. tuned into American Idol, Arturs Irbe summed up the entire thing.

"You can say that this probably means more to us than to the American team," the former NHL and current Latvian goalie said.

Don't stop there, Arturs. It isn't just the American team that may not care all that much about its performance here at the Winter Olympics. It's all of America itself.


Mr. Wetzel goes on about the failures of the NHL and how Americans just aren't caring about hockey anymore. But I actually think it is deeper than that. The large professional sports environment, with its multi-million dollar contracts and endorsement dollars, actually poisons the well for the US in these international competitions. No dollars are on the line for these guys, and they have no sense of national pride being on the line either.

In those Olympic sports where going pro is not an option, the US still does quite well (more gold medals at this time than any other nation). But Americans just care less and less about showing up other countries. There are no real rivalries, the games come only every 4 years, the faces change at every Olympics.

Maybe for a Russian this is difficult to understand - but if you lived in the US and know the passion behind Red Sox vs. Yankees or Bears vs. Packers - you see the Olympics is just a pale shadow.

4 comments:

michael said...

Mmmm. You may well be right, but personally, I find that all a bit sad. Money obviously means much more to all of America then? What happened to the desire to try to prove your worth to a watching world?

W. Shedd said...

Definitely money is more important. I don't think many athletes contracts will even allow them to compete in some of these events. We've seen it in the World Baseball Classic even this year also.

And it isn't just the wallet of the athletes ... but the companies that sponsor them (Nike et al) and the teams they play for. Many athletes are not seen as players, but as investments.

To be honest, probably better this way for the time being. US could use some humbling and other countries are very desirous of making us look 2nd rate. Sort of like that Eurovision thing, politics of the day definitely plays into peoples images of countries.

Plus on an international political basis, the US just has been a real turd lately. What few real allies we have (UK most notably), sometimes have a tough time justifying hanging in there with us.

But that is getting on a tangent

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