Wholimpics? Show a winter athlete you careEven for a person who makes a living reporting from the sidelines of events, the Olympics are special. It’s like a Friday night party that nobody wants to miss and everyone talks about before it starts but then forgets on Sunday afternoon while sleeping off all that booze they consumed the previous night.
Then there are the Winter Olympics. Quick! Name one guy that you know is going to be on the team, representing your country. If you can, you must either be a super winter sports geek or that athlete’s relative. In my neighborhood, I couldn’t find a single person who could name one.
For the Winter Olympics, there is not much buzz even before the game starts. At least not here.
Last week, the news that the athletes representing Korea at this year’s Torino Winter Olympics held a ceremony made a blip on the press radar and then disappeared as fast as it had come. In the past, dictators like Chun Doo-hwan would have attended the ceremony, cameras rolling, and then would have left a fat envelope containing cash for the athletes, to lift their spirits for a couple of nights.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not fond of or getting nostalgic for the old days when a person couldn’t make a peep or hint of criticism in public without looking over one’s shoulder. The point is that at least athletes who were representing their country abroad were paid attention to, since there were relatively few of them.
Today, everyone is out for himself, while publicity is limited to popular sports and a few stars.
With less than 10 days to go, one would expect a ballyhoo to be breaking out, but it seems that the country’s interest in the Winter Olympics has died down alongside the failure last year to attract the Winter Olympics to the country. Nope, there’s nothing, not even for a country that aims to place within the top 10 rankings this time in terms of medals.
It is understandable. The winter here is cold but the quality and quantity of snow that falls isn’t comparable to the snow in the Alps. Granted, there are now many ski resorts in the country, but one has to remember that only a decade ago, even skiing itself was considered something of a “luxury” sport for the upper class.
Add to this the ice-thin pool of winter athletes this country has and it’s no wonder that these men and women can walk in and out of crowded department stores all day long without being recognized at least once. It seems that they’d have to run down Sejongno street naked before that happened.
For winter athletes in other countries, the Olympics are not the only place they can get in the spotlight (and possibly some endorsements). They can compete at international events and competitions. No one can say the same thing for winter athletes here.
With so few world-class Korean athletes, the Winter Olympics are still a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get one’s name out, at least for a moment. And when the light of the Olympic torch flickers away, they’ll disappear into the shadows of obscurity for another four years. Or forever.
That’s why we need to give them the applause they deserve. It’s the least we can do. Medal or no. They are the true heroes of life.
by Brian Lee