For two weeks every two years, our lives become entwined with the lives of athletes from around the world. We watch the Olympics earnestly, with bated breath, rooting for these athletes we have never heard of, competing in these events we do not understand. We become enamored with the stories and lives of the athletes of all countries, not just our own. We live and die with them as they compete. We celebrate and cry with them through victory and defeat. They become our heroes and villains, our friends and foes. We respect them and revere them, and we marvel in awe at the feats they are able to accomplish. For three weeks, these athletes become our extended family.
No other event captures the attention and hearts of people around the world so completely the way the Olympics does, only to often be forgotten within a few weeks after the end of the competition. The devotion we give Olympic athletes is not something out of character for us as humans. People worldwide are avid, passionate, fanatical sports fans. They live and die with their chosen team and remain lifelong devotees through thick and thin. What is different about our fascination with Olympic athletes is the short lived nature of the fanaticism. At no other time do we watch or wonder about Michael Phelps, Bode Miller, Kerri Walsh, Usain Bolt, Shaun White, Kim Yu-Na, Apollo Ohno, Lindsey Vonn, Joannie Rochette, and on and on and on. (Expect maybe when Phelps smokes pot or Ohno dances) But during the Olympics, these athletes become larger than life and we whole heartedly give them our support and devotion.
One might think our patriotism fuels our passion for Olympians, and I suspect this is a large part of it, however we often connect with athletes from other countries with the same fervor. I cannot fully explain the Olympic phenomenon, but I think what we really connect with are the human stories, both good and bad. How can you not root for a figure skater who just lost her mother, or a skier who severely disappointed four years ago, or a speed skater breaking US Winter Olympic medal count records? We are desperate to know how the stories end. So for two weeks we are glued to the television in anticipation of the stories that pull us in and captivate us. We thrive on the drama and we live for it. At least for two weeks.
After the events, those stories of human drama fade and we go back to our normal lives. When the stories are not thrust upon us every single night we lose interest. Our demand increases with the provided supply and falls accordingly. But that is part of why the Olympics are great. If they happened more often, I don’t think we would care as much.