| March 24, 2018

Column: Unhappy satisfaction

February 14, 2018

Ah, the Olympics.

It’s such a curious biennial occasion. I’m so split on my opinion of it. On one hand, I love the international competition. It’s entertaining and a bit humorous.

Every other year, families congregate around the tube to indulge in obscure sports — from an American standpoint, of course — and bluff a genuine understanding of the rules and scoring systems.

On the other, I feel horrible for the losers, professionals who fall into obscurity after arduous years of training. Unlike athletes in major American leagues, Olympians cannot afford to flounder and then fall back on jumbo contracts.

While it may seem like an honor to host the games, state governments suffer a colossal financial burden.

Let’s start with the positives. First, our great state of Idaho is getting its fair share of representation.

Our five native-born Idahoans can be read about in the Idaho Statesman’s recent Olympic article, but I’m personally a bit more interested in a sport I never imagined I would be — bobsled.

Sam Michener, a 2010 Idaho graduate and former sprinter, will make his Olympic debut as a pusher for Team USA. His driver? Nick Cunningham, a former track athlete and 2008 Boise State grad, of all places. This is awe-inspiring. If there was ever a signal of statewide collaboration, this is it.

Cunningham is also a sergeant in the New York National Guard. The patriotism and home-state pride is swelling through me. I implore the Olympic gods to do whatever they can to get the Team U.S.A. gold in bobsled. Imagine that, a Bronco and a Vandal, high-fiving, hugging it out on the podium, both draped in gold.

Speaking of our Gem State, The Washington Post recently published an article concerning potential future Winter Olympic host-cities. Not to get anyone’s hopes up, this is purely hypothetical, but according to the Post, the Idaho cities of Coeur d’Alene and Caldwell offer the ideal temperatures, elevation and extensive nearby mountain resorts.

Obviously, the International Olympic Committee will most likely choose Boston or Salt Lake City for the 2026 Winter Olympics if it were to even consider an American city, but we can dream.

On second thought, would we even want the Olympics in Idaho? According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the local government of Pyeongchang, South Korea will make a nearly $13 billion payment to “create the necessary infrastructure.”

Dozens of cities have withdrawn their bids in recent years, all citing rising cost concerns as reasons. Hotels and venues must be constructed, and while an economy may boost from media exposure, local citizens frequently bear the burden of increased taxes.

Money is the problem with the Olympics. Isn’t money always the problem? Olympians who aren’t also involved in major sports leagues, or not named Shaun White or Michael Phelps, typically pay out of pocket to fund their aspirations.

Sure, the United States Olympic Committee pays out for medals, but only $25,000 for a gold, according to Sports Management Degree Hub.

So, out of 92 nations, and nearly 3,000 athletes, you have to place top-three to get a payout from your country, and it’s small.

There’s corporate-backed funding too, but since 2002, just $437,000 has been shelled out through grants to fund Olympic dreams, according to data from Sports Management Degree Hub. The only hope for the majority of athletes is to either find full-time work, and be a professional athlete on the side, or consistently be the best in the world. Only then will the corporate sponsorships and endorsement deals come flooding in.

Imagine Austin Davis, the backup quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, working weekdays as an accountant, struggling with the mortgage, yet finding time for daily practice and Sunday games.

But hey, there’s some political positives at play here. In what should be a favorable sign of relative harmony, South and North Korea have doubled up in women’s hockey. They were trampled 8-0 by Sweden, but they were trampled together, in unison.

In an absolute win for democracy, Russians have to compete under an acronym now. The content of the Netflix documentary “Icarus”, practically featuring proof of an Olympic Russian cheating conspiracy, led to the expulsion of the frauds from the games, but the retention of the deserving competitors.

With all that being said, I still am captivated. It’s rare, so tuning in is a must.

Who could have ever predicted in 1896 that Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin’s vision for international games and a physically fit France would someday culminate with me, eating potato chips on the couch at 10 p.m., attempting to decipher the intricacies of figure skating scoring.

Colton Clark can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @coltonclark95

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