Thursday, February 15, 2018
In this age of social media it seems no action goes unnoticed. Take for instance Shaun White dragging the American flag on the ground after winning the gold medal in the halfpipe. Social media immediately slammed Shaun for this faux pas. It didn't matter that he apologized afterward, the American flag brigade was relentless in its online shaming, even going so far as to call him a "traitor."
Meanwhile Chloe Kim found how a meaningless tweet can become part of a new lexicon after she won the women's halfpipe in stunning fashion. Social media went gaga for her "hangry" remark and soon everyone was running with it, including the Today show, which had churros especially made for her visit to the set at PyeongChang. Hoda and Savannah must have mentioned "hangry" a dozen times during the short span of the interview. Maybe Chloe will get a churro named after her like Shaun White had his nickname, "The Flying Tomato," put on a hamburger.
But, social media can get intense when political battle lines are crossed as we are finding out in the Adam Rippon v. Mike Pence twitter war that Donald Trump Jr. felt compelled to jump in. Rippon is the first openly gay American figure skater to compete in the Olympics and let it be known what he felt of the Vice-President's view of the gay community. For his part, Pence tried to downplay the war of words, but Adam was having none of it and soon this became one of the top stories of the Olympics. Donnie Jr. saw an opening and pounced. Only problem is he got a few facts wrong and left himself looking like a fool. Nothing new. However, do we really need this in the Olympics?
The Olympics are basically treated as human interest stories because this is the extent most of us see of these athletes over a four year period. Some, like Lindsey Vonn have a post-Olympics afterlife, but the vast majority will never be heard from again, unless they are unfortunate to have a movie made about them.
Social media changes that to some degree as these athletes all have webpages with a huge number of followers. Chloe Kim is already up to 272K twitter followers, and I'm sure that number will soon be over one million with the attention she is getting during the Games. Adam has amassed 261K followers since he became a media sensation. Shaun is King of the Hill with almost 2 million followers. He even has more followers than Lindsey Vonn, but he may slip after the flag incident.
It seems we need these athletes to live vicariously through each Olympic fortnight. The personal stories are compelling like the one about the Brandt sisters competing on separate hockey teams. No sooner did the Brandts adopt Korean-born Marissa than Mrs. Brandt found herself pregnant with Hannah. The two girls grew up in Minnesota, which explains their love for hockey. Hannah made the American team and Marissa is playing for the unified Korean team.
The stories tend to focus mostly on American athletes, but the occasional foreigner gets his or her due. The leggy Nigerian bobsled team has garnered a lot of attention this year, but as it turns out they have American ties. The winsome trio is competing in the two-person bobsled event, with one of them serving as the alternate. They used GoFundMe to realize their dream.
The Canadian ice dancing pair also garnered a lot of attention for their daring interpretation of Moulin Rouge on ice. Tessa Virtue and Scot Moir have been around for quite a while, having won gold at Vancouver and silver at Sochi, and are the odds on favorite to take gold again on the ice.
Of course, you also get a lot of attention with an agonizing wipe out like this one by Yuto Totsuka on the halfpipe. Fortunately for him, it looked a lot worse than it actually was and he will be OK. Everyone has been complaining about the weather conditions for the freestyle and alpine events, but as American Jamie Anderson said, you have to go with the flow, winning her slopestyle gold in an epic battle of attrition.
It's all pretty amazing to watch. These athletes literally appear to defy gravity, as we hug the cushions of our couches. There's something about the Winter Olympics that is more personal and captivating than the Summer Olympics. Even the curling is fun to watch, especially when you have a team that bills itself as "Housewives with Stones."