Searching for a reason to watch the Olympics

I’ve tried, really, I have. But I just can’t get into the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

I realize we are only a few days in, and I usually love that kind of stuff, especially the track and field competition and a few other events, like swimming and even gymnastics. Truth is, I’ll probably end up watching those sports, when all is said and done.

But the reality of this edition of the Olympics is that there are very few compelling stories floating around, unless you happen to be a big swim fan. Michael Phelps, for obvious reasons, is reason enough to tune in for a few hours. But he can’t save the Summer Games all by his lonesome.

The kid and his haul of gold medals could use a little help.

Yes, 41-year-old Dara Torres is a good story, as she competes in her fifth Olympics, and seeing how the whole Hope Solo saga plays out will hold some intrigue. But again, that’s swimming and women’s soccer, for heaven’s sake.

What about the U.S. men’s basketball team, you ask? I suppose if you like watching blowouts, you’re going to be a happy camper. Great athletes, yes. Some exciting highlights, no doubt. But that’s the problem: You can get all you need on the nightly ESPN dunkfest recap.

Yes, I realize, the “Redeem Team” is out to right some previous U.S. hoops shortcomings, but does anyone really care? They billed the U.S. blowout win over China on Sunday as “the most-watched basketball game ever aired.” Well, they must have been counting the Chinese viewership, because I don’t know anyone here who tuned in.

Of course, there will be a fun story or two develop during the course of the 17-day event. Let’s face it: When you have 11,028 athletes competing in 302 events in 28 different sports, something is bound to pop up that holds some interest.

Besides Phelps, the best number that came out of the games over the first weekend was the fact tourists racked up close to $10 million in Visa card bills on the opening day alone. According to the Wall Street Journal, the biggest spenders were ” drum roll, please ” visitors from the United States.

You see, Phil Gramm was right: Who says we’re in an economic recession? The ongoing recession in Beijing can be found at the track and field venue. Oh, there are still plenty of great athletes sprinting, jumping, throwing and vaulting ” but too many drug-related scandals have left the sport reeling in recent years.

Track and field’s reputation has taken way too many negative hits over the last decade and public confidence has been lost, to a large degree. That is a bona fide tragedy, considering the important role track and field has played in the games since “¦ well, since the Olympics transitioned into the modern Olympics in 1896.

For me, the most exciting part of the Summer Olympics when I was growing up was always the 100- and 200-meter events. The chance to see who would become the “world’s fastest” always kept me on the edge of my seat.

These days, you are often left wondering who’s using performance-enhancing drugs and who isn’t. That stinks.

And it definitely will have an impact on these Olympics. But in the end, the games will go on, as they should. Great athletes will test their mettle and do some amazing things over the next two weeks.

I’m sure someone will be watching most of it. As for me, well, I’ll try to squeeze in a few Olympic viewing minutes in between reruns of “Seinfeld” or “The Backyardigans” (hey, I have a 4-year-old).

One thing is for certain: I won’t be tuning in that often because I just can’t get that excited about the Olympics anymore. “Jay C. Upchurch

Jay C. Upchurch

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