Illustration: Kieron Black
In the immortal words of Michael Jackson, can you feel it? Can you feel it? Can you FEEL it?
It's coming. The five circles of wonder. The greatest show on earth. The goddamn Olympics baby. I am so excited. And you should be too.
A lot has changed, and not a lot has changed, since the last Olympics – when I fervently spewed out the C word. Everyone still hates Shaun White. Everyone would still rather see "a nice method". Skiers are still in charge. And most right-thinking snowboarders who never sit down to do up their bindings and will only ever have laces on their snowboard boots think that competition is for jock-strapped douchebags.
But we should love the Olympics. Here's why.
We need the Olympics to bring out the best and worst of us.
I think the best analogy here is when a fight breaks out at school. Two kids, trying to establish who is the hardest, going at it, trying to split a lip. There is a brutal, honest, primordial simplicity which inevitably sucks in a baying crowd of other kids, shouting "fight, fight, fight".
They want to see who is the hardest.
The two kids involved will hold nothing back, they will give their all to establish themselves as the alpha, find new dark corners inside themselves where strength and bravery might be lurking. But the onlookers don't give their best, they show their worst traits. A goading, voyeuristic, reality-TV watching, fast-food eating, stimulate-me sugar rush that leaves the arena strewn with litter afterwards.
"We want to see the fight – we NEED to see the fight – but we sure as hell don't want to be in it"
It's vulgar, yes, but every now and again, we need to feed those base instincts. We need to gorge ourselves at Christmas so that we can spend January being abstemious; we need to go on tour and act like idiots so the rest of the year we can be good citizens; we need to sneakily watch Love Island so that we can subsequently enjoy the study of obscure Polynesian theological texts. Or maybe we just want to see people fucking under the covers, I'm not sure.
The Roman emperors kept the masses pacified most of the time, by giving them a regular hit of blood and gore and death and heroism. The Olympics are our dose of blood and gore, allowing us to comfortably go back to watching black-and-white powder turns filmed on grainy Super8 for the next four years. We want to see the fight – I'd go so far as to say that we NEED to see the fight – but we sure as hell don't want to be in it. Thank god for the gladiators.
The Olympics are not relatable, thankfully.
Relatability is the under-the-bed-covers, cunnilingus-performing, 69er gigolo nephew of narrow-mindedness. "Unless I can see myself doing it, it holds no interest for me." Really? It drags us down like inferi, sucking us into a "no point in ever leaving this valley" mentality which is the very counter of the human condition.
We are built to strive, to improve, to evolve, to explore. We should celebrate the extremities of human-kind, because they are helping advance our race. Of course I will never land a quad-cork (it's unlikely I will ever get beyond a triple), but I want to see it being done, because it is a celebration of the same instinct that drove us to discover the wheel, to invent sanitation, to create the spaceship.
It is us, trying to do our best. It's progression.
"The Olympians' 5am oat smoothies, six hour gym sessions and knee-busting acrobatics are in no way relatable. Thank fuck for that"
Yes, it would be quite fun to see a competition where the riders could only do a method, but if that was all there was in our world, it would be ridiculous. Our sport would be freeze-dried into a permanent stasis. It would be like running the 100m barefoot on a dust track and timing it with a sun dial. It would be like Formula 1 racing with a man walking in front with a red flag. It would be like living in mud huts... but hell, we would have some really fucking nice-looking mud huts, man.
I want to see other human beings pushing themselves to their limits, testing what is possible with our DNA sequence. Olympic athletes dedicate their lives to the pursuit of excellence, generally getting paid f*ck-all along the way – turning themselves into anthropological, physiological and psychological test cases which means that we don't have to do the same in order to know what is humanly possible. Their 5am oat smoothies, six hour gym sessions and airbag exploding, knee-busting acrobatics are in no way relatable. Thank fuck for that.
I get that we need a "bridge", something we can latch onto which helps us understand what we are seeing. That's normal. After all, an ugly, schlubby guy like Ron Jeremy (who I once met on the train, and he was complaining about 1st class seats not reclining... weird) had a long... err... career because guys could imagine themselves being him far more easily than a smooth-chested guy with abs. But I don't want the Olympic athletes to be a bit like me, that would just be boring. Long live the freaks that I can't relate to.
We need the Olympics to make sense of competition.
I know this gets everyone's goat more than a goat-getting shepherd with a large herd of goats, but the Olympics actually make the sport of snowboarding make sense, and they've done a better job of organising it than we have so far.
Look at the mess we have created of competition. Leaving the snowboarders in charge has resulted in the most un-democratic, disjointed, opaque and befuddling competitive landscape that places suckling the corporate sponsorship teat above all else. No-one has any clue who the best snowboarder actually is, but it doesn't really matter because we are helping the American Navy recruit more jarheads.
The reality is that the Olympics gives us a clear winner that can be explained in 140 characters or less. Is Sage Kotsenburg the best snowboarder in the world? Probably not, but he was definitely the best rider on the day four years ago, and he qualified to be there through a transparent rules-based system that my mum would understand. Try explaining the X Games, Dew Tour, US Open, Laax Open, Air + Style and the Dirksen Derby to your mum and see how far you get before she offers you a slice of cake and stares into the middle distance thinking about Paolo the pool boy from Benidorm.
And if you tell me snowboarding is not a sport and not about competing, you're right: for most of us it's not. But we still need it to be a sport. As per my first point above.
The Olympics gives us super-sized heroes and villains. It gives us DRAMA!
Because the Olympics matters – in a chat-show-appearance supermodel-befriending life-changing kind of way – we get these intense moments of drama that boil down someone's life to a single second, a single air, a single turn, a single failed method. The implication of nailing it versus failing it is so huge, its white-dwarf intensity cannot help but spawn incredible feats of heroism and tear-jerking heart-wrenching oh-my-god-the-12-years-of-sacrifice-were-worth-it-because-I've-done-it beauty. I fucking love that shit. But then, I cry when someone wins Bake Off, so I am admittedly not normal.
"Shaun White is our pantomime villain, all dressed in black and leather – just so that we know he is a baddie"
Can anyone honestly tell me that there was a better thing on telly ever than Ed Leigh shredding his vocal cords as Lindsey Jacobellis landed all straight-legged on her heel edge and was passed on the line? It just wouldn't have mattered if it had been the X Games, because - literally - more people care about the Scottish regional curling championships than the X Games.
And we get super-sized boo-boo villains, bad guys we all love to hate. Shaun White is our pantomime villain, all dressed in black and leather (just so that we know he is a baddie). He doesn't even like powder, hasn't realised wide stances aren't cool any more and doesn't hang out with the shorter snowboarding poppies, so he deserves our fury.
What's more, the conspiracists are rampant after White secured his place in the US team with a perfect score of 100, which means that he probably killed JFK, forced Burton to release the Step-On, and is boning a FIS judge with a banana wrapped in a flavoured condom every Tuesday after watching Wheel of Fortune with the sound off. I will be rooting for him. I prefer Voldemort.
We get team outfits.
Who isn't going to be laughing at the US team dressed as stay-puft marshmallow astronauts? It's almost worth running the whole Olympics just to see what horrendous designs Burton can come up with to make the US riders look like dicks. Red Gerard is going to look like an ejaculating baby Michelin-man when he is staring up Silje Norendal's skirt.
Snowboarding is important at the Olympics.
Whilst you could make a good argument that it's better now that snowboarding isn't as big a deal as it was 15 years ago (fewer clingons, just the core remains), the Olympics heralds the return of snowboarding into the limelight and water-cooler public consciousness.
The snowboard halfpipe was one of the most viewed events four years ago (possibly not our ideal moment in the sun, considering the half-pipe was shaped using a mix of mashed potato and slush puppy leftovers), which has to mean something positive for the local snowboard shop trying to shift a couple of extra boards, or young riders trying to get sponsored.
We officially saved the winter Olympics, which - despite still not being allowed to organise anything - should mean the snowboard community has more leverage and influence over the clipboards in the future. I hope that is a good thing, and we don't end up trying to stop people qualifying if they aren't cool enough.
"It is high time someone Sharpied a massive penis onto the bottom of their board and did a mute stiffy right in front of the halfpipe camera"
The Olympics reminds us we are supposed to be rebels
Mohawks, badly fitting Japanese trousers, photobombing Russian speed skaters, "hucking" it... when we are in the limelight we get back to what we do best: baiting normal people. Now that we are all really sensible and like split-boarding at 5am, wearing muted colours and cold-pressing our breakfast juice from foraged leaves, channeling our collective inner Damian Sanders every four years is a useful re-tox that re-sets the rebel spirit and stops us getting too beardy and earnest.
Personally, I think it is high time that someone Sharpied a massive penis onto the bottom of their board and did a mute stiffy right in front of the halfpipe camera.
So... I will be watching the Olympics with a rabid fervour. Rooting for the villains, secretly wishing that the snowboard-cross ends in a seagull-chasing chip-hat-wearing quadruple scorpion, and looking forward to explaining the difference between a roast beef and beef curtains grab to Janice in accounts.
Bring it on.