Monday, August 11, 2008
Summer Olympics According to the Swedes
Att dunka – “to dunk” in Swedish.
This verb was used early and often in yesterday’s U.S vs. China men’s basketball opener watched by an estimated 1 billion people worldwide. Normally a little uncomfortable with American dominance (this team has had to start over and "re-learn" to play basketball like a team in order to win gold on a world-level, which hasn’t happened since 2000), I now find it fun to actually root for the U.S. basketball team again. If they do win gold, they will have earned it. But this is a blog about Sweden, not the U.S.
Let’s make one thing clear in the beginning. Given the choice between the Summer and Winter Olympics, most Swedes will choose Winter. The reasons are obvious and recent national success only increases this Olympic selection.
However, this is Sweden. And wherever in the world the blue and yellow is being represented, the country is well-aware and usually tuned in. With not one, but two public (and, therefore, commercial-free) television channels showing almost round-the-clock coverage from "Peking," if a Swede doesn’t know every last thing there is to know about these Beijing Olympics, it’s their own fault.
After initially whining that I couldn’t get my American Olympic coverage over the internet, and was “forced” to watch the Olympics from a Swedish perspective, I have enjoyed the experience of watching these beloved (to an American) games from another perspective. Here are some observations so far:
*Since we’re only seven hours behind China, most of the coverage is “direkt” (also known as “live”). Always fun to be watching something as it happens and not avoiding seeing scores and results until NBC finally gets to show it 10 hours later….
*American Olympic coverage is often criticized for being overly focused on only American athletes. Sweden is guilty of this as well and I am sure every country is “overly focused” on their own athletes – and hey, for non-Americans reading this, it’s good for you to know that at least some people in the U.S. care about what athletes from other countries are doing!
*But give the Swedes credit, their excitement around and coverage of the American men’s basketball team, Michael Phelps’ quest and other storylines, both American and others, has been a pleasure to watch. And the minor sports, the ones you only hear about during the Olympics no matter what country you’re from, get just as much coverage as anything.
*Handball looks like it would be really, really fun!
*If there is a darling of these Olympics for the Swedes, it is 14 year-old Sarah Sjöström. For those dabbling in the Swedish language, yes, her name is Sarah “Lake-Stream.” You guessed it. She’s a swimmer….I love Sweden.
*As an American, I am embarrassed by our focus on the “medal count.” Does it really matter who gets the most medals? And if it does, then shouldn’t it be a reflection of the population of the country? Shouldn’t the U.S. be doing a lot better than we're doing since we have 300 million to choose from? And shouldn’t China be disqualified from the next Olympics if they don’t get at least 1/7th of all the medals since they have 1/7th of the people in the world? And shouldn’t winning the decathlon count as 10 medals? The medal count is the height of national self-absorption and the opposite of what the Olympics are all about. Go Palau!
*Speaking of the Olympic spirit, did anyone see the medal podium embrace of the two female athletes – one from Russia and the other from Georgia? That’s what the Olympics ARE all about.
*Watch for Swedes Stefan Holm (high jump), Susanna Kallur (hurdles), Carolina Klüft– the most well known of Swedish Summer Olympic athletes since her heptathlon gold in Athens (triple and long jump) and Stefan Nystrand and Therese Alshammar (swimming).
*Countries like Sweden will only finish the games with 7 – 10 medals total, but those winners are celebrated like no other. Emma Johansson, the surprise silver-medalist in a cycling event yesterday, became a household name overnight. There’s some more Olympic spirit brought to you by the blue and yellow, a silver is "good as gold."
1. Beijing Olympics. I was first introduced to the Summer Olympics when they were almost literally in my backyard in 1984 - Los Angeles. What a great summer that was!
2. Emma Johansson wins Sweden's first medal of the games.
3. Sarah "Lake-Stream" is a 14 year-old Swedish swimmer.
4. "Att Dunka" - Kobe Bryant
5. Georgian (on left) and Russian medalists embrace on the medal podium even as their countries were beginning a war.