Have you heard about the buses? The buses are a biennial Olympic calamity. But this time they are extra terrible. Everybody says so.
They are creaky, unheated and don’t come often enough. Once they do come, they are packed, which makes no sense.
If you want to go to watch alpine skiing, that will involve five buses, a train, a gondola and most of a workday. That is four buses, a gondola and half-a-workday too much.
Why does a coffee cost seven bucks, but a Coke is a buck-forty? Why do they keep throwing open the windows in my hotel room? Why is the woman who does our COVID-19 throat swab every morning trying to kill me?
This is how you do journalism at an Olympics. You complain, about everything.
Sure, they squeezed 10,000 people from every hot zone in the world into a pristine epidemiological environment without lighting off Contagion. But the robots who make noodles in the cafeteria take forever, so how far ahead are we really?
The difference at Beijing 2022 is that the whingeing has become general. Everybody’s got a problem with everything.
The opening ceremony? A whitewash.
The venues? Too far away.
The winter part of the Winter Games? Too wintry.
But how about the snow? Not wintry enough.
The big bugbear – COVID-19. Everyone understood it was a general problem. But they’re having trouble understanding when it becomes a more specific problem.
Athletes who’ve been put in isolation hotels after positive tests have been speaking out online like political prisoners. They’ve complained about everything from the internet access to the variety of gym equipment.
“I cry every day,” said isolated Russian athlete Valeria Vasnetsova.
A German ski coach who has the run of the place – inasmuch as that is possible – had some thoughts on the catering. It’s cold.
“Extremely questionable,” Christian Schwaiger said of the craft services. “I would have thought that the Olympic committee is capable of providing hot meals.”
No word on whether he was angrily shaking an ivory cane as he said it.
Speaking of cold, are you surprised to hear it is sometimes a little frosty on a mountain in February? So were many of the competitors here. They have all sorts of suggestions about when and how events should be going off, but don’t seem to have consulted the set-in-stone broadcast contracts that paid for this party.
At Monday’s daily International Olympic Committee briefing – the village square where Olympic complaints are registered – it was another session of steady complaining. Is the snow “sustainable?” Why can’t some people get Instagram? And, of course, the food.
This is what happens when you deny people their God-given right to eat at a grotty hotdog stand a few metres outside the Olympic gates. Their mind runs wild with all the exotic fare they would have had – though they wouldn’t have. What they would have done is gone to McDonald’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As the airing of grievances ended, the IOC’s silky British spokesperson, Mark Adams, said he looked forward to seeing everyone again “for another lively discussion.” Someone laughed miserably.
Is Beijing really that bad?
No more than the past couple of Winter Games. Sochi was as politically fraught. Pyeongchang was as cold and isolated.
Come to think of it, the food options in Tokyo last year weren’t great, and the transport was more of a fright in Rio. Let’s not bother going back as far as Atlanta, where nothing worked and then they started lighting off pipe bombs.
What’s changed here isn’t the quality control. It’s our perspective.
First, there’s COVID-19. It’s made us unbearable. Most people need another two years to learn how to be around each other again.
When you jam thousands of socially stunted people together – especially the athletes, many of whom have spent months paranoically hiding from infection – it’s probably not going to be a 24-hour-a-day love-in.
There is the distance from the last Games. Six months is too little. It makes the Olympics commonplace. Things that are commonplace become easily ignored annoyances. This is why they stopped releasing Star Wars spinoffs every eight weeks.
Finally, and most importantly, there is the general impression of the Olympics and the Olympic movement. It is so low that it is tunnelling.
It’s no longer cool to like the Olympics, even if you are in them. Doing so makes you a Pollyanna, a shill or both. That feeling bled over to the general public a while ago.
But after Simone Biles bailed on Tokyo, talking about this as the ultimate goal went out of fashion for many athletes. They may still want Olympic glory more than anything else, but they’re not sure they should be saying that out loud.
When the default goes from “best time of my life” to “let’s stop and think about what this all means,” that’s no fun. And when every exclamation of joy is greeted with, “But what about Peng Shuai?” that might make you cranky, too.
Whatever your function, being at an Olympics is a free vacation you didn’t get to plan yourself. You don’t get to pick where you go each day. You don’t get to choose the dinner place. They told you when to fly in and where you’d be staying.
That used to seem like a good deal. Recently, not so much.
Some of these complaints are more understandable than others. Nobody would like to be thrown in a room and held incommunicado in a foreign country. But many of them are small potatoes (also, if you know where I can find any small potatoes, could you text me?).
The bubble has time-warped some people back to childhood and tucked them up in bed. Social media and the omnipresence of interested journalists have given them a bell.
Annoyed, uncomfortable and just a little bit afraid, they can’t help themselves but be constantly ringing it.
It’s not the Olympics’ fault that the Olympics, like a lot of other things, just aren’t as much fun as they used to be.
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