The other Team USA

The Olympics offer a rare opportunity to showcase less popular athletic events and unknown athletes on a stage that is unparalleled in all of sports. Teams aren’t driven by the economic bottom line, or maximizing the fan experience, or by promoting media superstars – resulting in athletic competition at its purest. Sure, even the Olympics have their celebrity. Athletes like Shaun White, Apolo Anton Ohno and Lindsey Vonn dominate the highlight reels and are well known outside of the Olympic arena.  But for the most part, Olympians are unknown. Ever heard of Bryon Wilson? (No, he’s not in the Beach Boys.) He took home bronze for the U.S. in men’s moguls. What about Julia Mancuso? She won silver in women’s downhill. J.R. Celski? Bronze in 1,500m Short Track speed skating.  Sure, some lesser-known American Olympians achieved some celebrity — Belmont native Hannah Teter was featured on a special flavor of Ben & Jerry’s — the greatest honor that can be bestowed upon a Vermonter? But this is what’s so great about the Games – because the athletes are mostly unknown, we root for the country instead. Up until the 1970s, professional athletes were excluded from the Olympics. (It wasn’t until 1998 that NHL players could participate.) In America, sports outside the Big Four (baseball, football, basketball, and hockey) don’t receive exposure on a national or international stage.  The Olympics afford an opportunity for obscure sports to have large audiences – and they’re exciting to watch.  Short track speed skating? It’s a cross between roller derby and sprinting. Downhill skiing? What’s not to like about watching athletes careen down a mountain in excess of 80 miles per hour? Ditto for bobsleigh and luge. Skicross and snowboardcross, as well as freestyle skiing and halfpipe, have already been popularized through the X Games.  A side note: Sorry curling, I’m still not catching your vibe; and figure skating, you lost me when you when to went to the new scoring system – how am I supposed to know that 264.41 is a great score? And I’m still baffled as to why everyone has to wear sequins. It’s a shame that these sports aren’t televised to a global audience other than for two weeks in February every four years. These athletes dedicate years of their lives for a two-minute routine or six laps around a track. It isn’t their day job – curler John Schuster is a bartender in Minnesota. They aren’t on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Most don’t even get near the medal podium.  The Olympic Creed reads “The most important thing is not to win but to take part.” We can all take part by celebrating the efforts of all of our nation’s athletes.