â†µI have to admit, I wasn't all that excited about the Winter Olympics starting in Vancouver on Friday. I've never been one for Olympic pageantry, so the Opening Ceremonies really do nothing for me at all. In fact, I'd bet most sports fans agree with me. â†µâ†µ
â†µAnd that's always where the disconnect has been with Americans and the Winter Olympics. In the Summer Games, NBC pumps us full of human interest, but in the end, we're the ones holding all the medals. The Winter Games have always been a struggle for the United States, save for a few specific events. Sure, U.S. Figure Skating is rather dominant, and their speed skating compatriots have done their part as well. Snowboarding was added to the Olympics basically just so the U.S. could pad its medal tally. â†µâ†µ
â†µWith the popularity of Olympic ice hockey, in comparison to some of the other sports, you'd think the U.S. would have a slightly better recent history. With ten all-time medals, the United States men's hockey team has two gold, seven silver and one bronze. Despite just the two golds, medaling in nearly half the Olympic Games is pretty impressive. That said, if you look at the fact that the U.S. team has just one medal – a silver in 2002 after losing to Canada on home ice – since the 1980 Miracle on Ice team, their success doesn't seem all that impressive anymore. â†µâ†µ
â†µSo you can understand if American sports fans have somewhat of a jingoistic indifference to the Winter Games. But that could all change. It turns out, this year, we might actually be good – at everything. Per the Washington Post: â†µâ†µ
â†µâ‡¥"It's unprecedented what we are going to Vancouver with," said Steve Roush, a former U.S. Olympic Committee chief of sports performance and now a senior consultant for TSE Consulting. "I don't think the USOC has ever fielded a delegation that from top to bottom, discipline to discipline, walks in with the capabilities the 2010 team walks in with. . . . It will be the most competitive Winter Games in recent history." â†µâ†µI'm not going to lie, watching the U.S. compete in a sport is a lot more fun when you don't end up stuck watching Germany and Norway battling it out in the finals. So how has the USOC gotten to the point of being competitive? Money: gobs and gobs of money. The report indicates that the USOC has provided more than $120 million in the last decade for Winter Olympians to get the best in support and technological advancements their sports have to offer. So far, it's paid off, with the U.S. showcasing several medal contenders in traditionally weak U.S. events. â†µ
â†µOh, and remember all those reports that NBC was going to lose more than $200 million on the Games? This might be part of the reason why: â†µâ†µ
â†µâ‡¥Regardless of whether the United States climbs to the top of the medal table, NBC plans a significant increase in prime-time coverage of some of the lesser-known sports in which Americans have recently risen, according to Mike McCarley, senior vice president of NBC Sports. In what may be a historic first, Sunday's Nordic combined competition will get live coverage from the network, going head-to-head against the Daytona 500 on Fox Sports. â†µâ†µNBC is banking on the fact that if it's part of the Olympics, and the United States is good, people will watch. Eh, they're probably right…I'm actually getting excited for the Nordic Combined now. What? I'm a sucker for the ski jump. (Video below via Time Magazine.) â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.