I Just Can’t Seem to Quit the Olympics

There’s never been a better time not to watch the Olympics. 

Beijing’s track record of human rights abuses is long and deep, from the demonization of the Uighur peoples to the ban on any dissent deemed “unpatriotic.” 

The 2022 Olympics are an assault on the environment. Every flake of snow for the Beijing Games had to be manufactured, requiring 49 million gallons of water and insane amounts of energy.

To make matters worse, China’s zero-Covid policy led to an alienating and stressful closed loop system that leaves athletes completely disconnected from the host city, their families and fans. Athletes, journalists and officials work, sleep, eat and compete in a bubble environment with zero contact with the outside world. 

The athletes themselves are being pressed to the limit, with a constant demand for perfection. This likely led to figure skater Kamila Valieva’s doping — her drug test came back positive for three performance enhancing substances. In an unfair irony, she was allowed to compete while others before her weren’t (Sha’Carri Richardson, a person of color, was suspended from the US Olympics team after she tested positive for marijuana — a drug that does not enhance performance).

The final scene of the three Russian figure skaters, performing under “Russian Olympic Committee” (ROC) instead of Russia because of previous doping scandals, is not one I will soon forget. One a gold medalist with no one to hug and no way to celebrate, another a silver medalist with black mascara tears streaming down her face because her prize was not the right color, a third chastised for an uncharacteristic and fall-filled performance that kept her off the podium even when illegal doping didn’t.

Not watching the Olympics? So. Many. Good. Reasons.

And yet. 

The Olympics are a habit I just can’t seem to quit. 

I’ve loved the Olympics since I was a little kid. So did my mom. It was the way we’d bond, snuggled up on the couch together, our eyes getting damp as we learned the backstory of a freestyle swimmer or female gymnast. I loved the drama of a world stage where everyone had the chance to compete. I loved the opportunity to root for my ethnic background, cheering on the Hungarians in their specialties of swimming or fencing. I loved seeing athletes from across the globe come together. I loved the history, the drama of it all.

And I still do. I thought I’d kick my Olympics habit with the pandemic-addled Tokyo Games, but I was glued to the screen, watching Simone Biles redefine sportsmanship and Caleb Dressel dominate the lanes. 

I thought for sure I’d ban the Beijing Olympics from my house given the scandals about to unfurl.

But here’s the thing — the magic that makes the Olympics is not about politics or money or medals. It’s about the athletes. It’s about their stories, the long road that led them to the most prominent stage in the world, the years of discipline and sacrifice to become the best in the globe. 

We owe it to them to watch. 

I want to honor the tireless efforts athletes have made to get to where they are. I want to relish in Nathan Chen’s balletic moves on ice, I want to celebrate Shaun White’s last run in a storied career. I want to be amazed by Slope Style and aerials, confused by curling and biathlons. I want to hear stories like those of the speed skaters, one woman who sacrificed her spot on the Olympic team to give it to a younger teammate. 

I want my eyes to get misty and my jaw to hang open. I want to watch for them. And for me — to imagine there’s still a bit of magic in the world. So you’ll find me on the couch, in front of the TV.