I am concerned about the next Winter Olympic Games.
Pyeongchang and Pyongyang may be poles apart politically and ideologically but they are uncomfortably close alphabetically and geographically.
One of course is the venue for the upcoming Games in South Korea; the other the capital of North Korea.
Let us hope Donald Trump really can tell the difference between the two should his ever-wagging index finger hover over the red button after something untowards happens during the Games.
Like, for example, his equally unhinged North Korean opposite number Kim Jong-un provocatively testing another long range nuclear device which may land dangerously close to the United States mainland.
The frightening thought is that Trump and Kim are the two most important players in these Games. One is a loose cannon. The other has a screw loose. Take your pick which is which.
One false move from either of these trigger-happy egoists and it could be off at all meetings, as they say.
Thankfully it is an unlikely scenario (isn’t it?) and the Games will run as smoothly as the ski lifts taking the competitors to the Taebaek mountain tops. Well, sort of
With Russia, the last Games host, absent and angrily buried under their self-made avalanche of doping crimes, and rightly so, we are already in a state of Cold War.
And you do wonder how many other countries might decide not to participate if the political posturing worsens in the weeks leading up to next February.
Some are already said to be wavering with Trump and Kim playing silly beggars.
But perhaps of equal significance to any external threat is a diffidence towards these Games which as far as the US and Europe are concerned are happening in a faraway place with a strange sounding name. They will also be in a time-zone that is hardly conducive with peak-time western TV scheduling.
Moreover, so far we have not seen the emergence of recognizable personalities going for glory at Pyeongchang 2018 who will grab us by the snowballs.
Where are the Klammers, the Killys, the Heidens, the Henies, the Torvill and Deans of the age? In cold storage it seems.
You may gather that I am not a great fan of the Winter Olympics. Indeed, I do not see why they should have anything to do with the Olympics at all.
I am sure Baron de Coubertin was not envisaging slaloming down mountains or helter-skeltering through an ice tunnel when he first dreamed up the Olympic concept.
By all means have a global festival of winter sports and call it what you will, but for me the Olympic Games are a summer event, and always will be.
But I may be prejudiced by my own experiences of the Winter Olympics, which have not been good. Especially those of Lake Placid in 1980.
As I have recounted here before, from the media perspective Lake Placid was the worst sporting experience I have encountered, surprisingly so as it was in the US.
Usually, nowhere in the world are major sporting events better orchestrated. From the Superbowl to world title fights, nobody does it better. Except in Lake Placid.
This was small town America at its worst. Head of the Organizing Committee was the local vicar, the Rev J Bernard Fell, a parsimonious parson indeed.
The 1980 Games marked the second time the small upstate New York resort had hosted the Winter Olympics. But, in the age of mass TV coverage and increasing numbers of spectators, Lake Placid was ill-equipped to handle the demands of a modern Games.
Transportation was inadequate to move the crowds and the media – the few buses we saw usually whizzed by without stopping, leaving us stranded knee deep in snow often up to 40 below.
Athletes complained about the cramped confinement in rooms measuring some 7ft by 13ft in the Olympic Village, which was designed from the outset to become an actual prison later on, housing notorious Mafia inmates.
The so-called “Olympic Prison” triggered what Sports Illustrated declared “a revolt, unprecedented in Olympic history” as a growing number of visiting Olympic teams refused to be incarcerated at the Village, citing its tiny cells, barred windows and barb-wire perimeter.
While the sports facilities themselves were good, they were spread throughout the area, making it difficult for spectators to view the events. In addition, organizers were forced to use artificial snow – an Olympic first.
Most of the media was housed in an establishment akin to a low grade youth hostel with tiny, often windowless rooms. I recall the late John Hennessy, sports editor on the London Times, crouched in his cell-like accommodation, head in his hands and wailing: “I am here representing one of the most prestigious newspapers in the world. What am I doing in a hell-hole like this?”
The media center was an ill-equipped boys’ schoolhouse in which the toilet cubicles had no doors. Not an ideal way to spend a penny.
The trouble was, the Rev Fell obviously did not want to spend too many of them on the media.
On top of all this my padded ski jacket burst, spraying duck feathers all over the working press room. Henceforth I was dubbed “The Man with the Exploding Jacket”. So you can see why I was not a happy bunny. And I was not alone.
International politics also dampened the Games. Only months before, the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, and US President Jimmy Carter was already threatening a boycott of the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow.
To be fair though, the sporting action was memorable. Lake Placid provided stunning victories for the Americans, culminating in the nation’s ice hockey team, mainly comprised of college boys, sensationally defeating the mighty Soviet Union, the dominant team in international ice hockey over the previous decade and Olympic champions since 1964, en-route to winning the gold medal.
One of the most iconic moments in the history of the Winter Olympics, it became known as “The Miracle on Ice”.
It also occurred at the height of the original Cold War. And for the embarrassingly vanquished Soviet superstars, doubtless it was a case of the cold shoulder when they returned home.
Of course, this is by-the-by. Pyeongchang might surprise us.
It could all go off without a political hitch and produce some spectacular sport, unearthing a new crop of stars on skis and ice who will become as universally celebrated as some of their forebearers.
So, fingers-and skis-crossed, let’s hope so. But I doubt you will find an Eskimo betting his igloo on it.
By Alan Hubbard
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.