The youth of the world have gathered, and in just a few hours from now, the Opening Ceremonies of the XXII Winter Olympic Games will begin. Like most of you, I will be sitting down with my family to watch. We will hang our Olympic flag, grab our goodies, and spend as much time as possible in front of the TV for the next 16 days.
What is it about the Olympics that draws us in? For some of us it's the chance to see some of the bad in the world put on hold for a short time, as nations make an increased effort to get along with each other while their athletes participate in friendly competition. For others it's not friendly at all - it's a sense of national pride. It's personal. Whatever the reasons, we can all probably agree on this - that for the next two weeks, we will have the opportunity to witness some amazing events, with the most exceptional athletes the world has ever known, on the biggest stage ever built. Personal bests will be shattered, and world records broken. Champions will be crowned, and previously unknown athletes will become household names.
If you are a big fan of the Olympics then you have been anxiously waiting for tonight to come. For me the Games started about a month ago. I work as a technical volunteer at the Utah Olympic Oval where we recently had the pleasure of hosting the Olympic Team Trials for US Speedskating. I got to watch the best skaters in the nation compete for their place on the Olympic Team. I watched as some of these athletes, after years of dedication, realized that their hard work had paid off and their dreams were about to come true. In my own small way I got to be a part of it. The crowds were great, the seats were packed, and the races amazing.
But it's not always that way at our speedskating events. The crowds are usually small. Most of the spectators at our smaller events are the other skaters and their family members. There are a few fans that come out for the events, but not as many as you would think. It's unfortunate really, because the participants at the smaller events are often the same world-class athletes that we are about to see compete in Sochi - and spectators can watch these races from very close to the ice, for little to no cost for admission. I believe the same could be said of similar events at OlympicPark in Park City, where athletes like BYU's own Kate Hansen qualified for the US Luge Team only eight weeks ago.
The small crowds and what seems to be a lack of interest is what got me thinking, and I wondered why it is that so many of us get so excited about Olympic sports during the Olympics, but almost entirely forget about them for the next four years?
When talking about Olympic sports on a collegiate level, they are referred to as non-revenue sports. MB Murray recently wrote a post discussing the success of non-revenue sports at BYU. Unfortunately, due to the non-revenue factor, some universities are dropping these sports from their programs, and many others are in danger of doing so.
Take swimming for example. It's one of the most popular events during the Summer Olympics. But how many of us ever venture out to watch a college swim meet? You remember Missy Franklin who swam for Team USA in London two years ago, and at the age of 17 became one of the most recognized and talked about athletes at the Games. And whether you love him or hate him, I seriously doubt that anyone reading this post isn't familiar with Michael Phelps.
So what happens to these athletes during the four years between Olympics? They don't just disappear. They don't stop competing. Many of them return to the obscurity of participating in collegiate (or even high school) non-revenue sports. The fact is, it's not them that disappear - it's us the fans that do that.
I have to admit that I am as guilty as anyone else when it comes to this. I wouldn't miss a Cougar football game for, well, almost anything. I've missed weddings, funerals, and a lot of Saturday morning scout drives because someone was insane enough to schedule them on the same day as a BYU home football game and think that I would come! But you know that Olympic sport ten-punch pass that comes with your football season tickets? I didn't use mine last year. Not once.
I did attend a couple of home baseball games last year. I bought very inexpensive tickets, and had fantastic seats both times. But then those of you who have been to a game at Miller Park know that there isn't a bad seat there. The same can be said of attending a soccer match at South Field or a swim meet in the Richards Building.
And while you may not get to see bit stars like Taysom Hill or Tyler Hawes, you will get to see some other great athletes like BYU women's volleyball's Cloee Colohan who was recently picked 14th in the draft, or Tyler Thatcher, the All-American cross country runner I wrote about last week.
It's not our fault we think about football and basketball more. The marketing for those sports draws us to them, and there is nothing wrong with that. We have the advantage of being able to watch at home and get to know the athletes. Later, when we attend a game in person, we feel like it's our team - like we already know them. Non-revenue sports don't always afford us those opportunities, although thanks to BYUtv we get a lot more coverage of these sports than we used to.
I will always be a football fan first. It's in my blood. And I like it that way. But I've learned to love the sport of speedskaitng too, and my experience there has led me to believe that I have missed a lot of chances to become acquainted with other sports, simply because I haven't paid attention. I loved watching Kyle Van Noy hit people, or Jimmer Fredette hit one three after another. And I know it's kind of like comparing apples to oranges, but I've seen the work that it takes for athletes to successfully participate in non-revenue sports, and they have every bit as much right to call themselves athletes as do those players of the BIG-revenue sports.
I hope we all enjoy the next 16 days. We really have no excuse not too. As spectators half a world away, we have unprecedented viewing access to the Games. But after the Olympics are over, and things get back to normal, I challenge you to get out there are take advantage of the opportunities you have to watch some very talented athletes right here at home. Take you kids to a swim meet or a softball game. Who knows, maybe attending a BYU Tennis match or golf tournament might inspire them to start what could become a lifelong love of the sport. If nothing else, you are bound to see some great athletes in action, and as a sports fan, you can't ask for more than that. Besides, you never know, the student you cheer for today may just become the Olympian you cheer for in the next Olympic Games.
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