Only NBC could take the story of Rio De Janeiro, home of Carnaval and birthplace of samba and the bossa nova, and turn it into a K-Mart staff meeting. Last week’s opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympic Games was basically a longer version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (without the thrill-a-minute action of watching a giant Elmo float down the street).
What the television coverage lacked in pacing it more than made up for in sheer, soul-deadening narration. In between their fascinating commentary on “Hamilton” (they liked it!), NBC co-hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira shared tidbits about athletes from each country with all the passion of a third-grade ballet recital. “Taavi Olson’s training table consists mostly of legumes … Birungi Nantaba is a five-time Olympian who’s aunt once dated two of the Bee Gees … Nataly Karimof was the first Uzbekistani woman to wear clogs to a wedding of cocker spaniels.”
Many American athletes decided to skip it altogether this year, staying in their rooms to avoid the sporting world’s oldest and longest roll call. Unless you play basketball. If you’re on the basketball team, you avoided the Parade of Nations by chilling on a floating yacht parked just outside the city. Way to send a signal to the rest of the globe, America! Olympic village, you say? No thanks — we’ll stay on our boat and come ashore when we run out of tiramisu.
Not the that I blame them. The stories of the deplorable conditions at the Olympic Village included Juan del Potro being stuck in an elevator for 40 minutes before he played the tennis match of his life in beating Novak Djokovic. However, those 40 minutes must have been like watching the birth of his first child compared to the painfully awkward spectacle that is the opening ceremony of any Olympic Games. I knew we were in for a long one when they decided to begin the show with the dawn of creation itself. They couldn’t have started when humankind began playing with rocks, just to pick up the pace a bit?
The closing ceremony we’ll see Aug. 21 will be much more interesting because most of the bubbles will have burst by then. Hope springs eternal at the start of the Games: every athlete still believes they could hear their national anthem played as a gold medal is placed around their neck. By the end of the second week, that spring of hope resembles the sewage-clogged bays and lagoons in which many athletes had to compete.
So why all the smiles on the faces of these athletes as the closing ceremony unfolds? How can they summon the energy to dance among the ashes of their broken dreams even as a long night falls upon this doomed city? It might be relief; anyone who’s ever gone off the rails at the end of a diet can relate to what it must be like to break training after four years. On the other hand, it could be the excitement of simply making it out alive: Canada’s Cameron Smedley saw his dream of standing on the podium for the canoe slalom dashed less than 48 hours after the flame was lit. Of course, this also meant limited exposure to the drug-resistant super bacteria infesting the waters of his venue.
More likely it’s because by then the athletes will have gone through the estimated 400,000 free condoms provided by the International Olympic Committee. That averages out to 42 condoms per athlete, or about two per day assuming they stay for the entire Games.
It seems a lot of these kids are medaling in at least one event.