After years of denying it, I can finally admit that I am somewhat of a sports fan. And by that I mean that I could watch anything, including sports that are big back home but basically not anywhere else and those that are exclusively popular in many places but Poland, and during all those years that I’ve been a fan, the only people that I could talk about them to were my parents and my friends who had been patient enough to listen to me ramble about something that they have absolutely no interest in. Kind of like right now.
So as a sports fan, the Olympics are actually kind of an important thing for me. I grew up in a household where basically all sporting events were a big deal. My parents loved sports since they were children, my mum used to be a track runner and played basically every sport possible and my dad used to be a goalie, in again, basically every sport possible. Because of them sports had always been around. Unfortunately, I was never really good at them. In fact, my lack of coordination and overall clumsiness made P.E. classes living hell for me, and that’s probably where my reluctance towards being a sports fan came from, despite the fact I was surrounded by it my whole life. Football has always been the biggest sport in Poland, as in many countries, and without a doubt, it always will be. But historically we didn’t have that much success in it, and I think that’s why people started paying attention to some other sports that had been available. Volleyball is one of them, with millions of people watching local and national competitions, and maybe the reason for it is that our national team had actually been successful (well, maybe not so much now, but it used to be). Same thing, although on a smaller scale happened with handball. I grew up in an era of one of the best ski-jumpers in history, who happens to come from Poland, and because of whom, since the late 90s the entire country has been following the sport almost religiously. And those are the commonly popular sports. Besides those, I was basically forced to watch many others. During any kind of athletic events my mum basically wouldn’t let me change the channel. I had to learn when all the major tennis tournaments are, because I knew that at this time I wouldn’t be able to watch any of my favourite shows.
During the 2014 Winter Olympics one of our ski-jumpers won all possible gold medals. Back then we also had a great biathlon and many other skiing and skating teams and competitors. But one day, during a break between all the competitions that any of my parents would be interested in, I changed the channel to one that just so it happens, was showing men’s ice hockey game. And let me explain: hockey is not a thing in Poland. Polish Hockey League consists of few teams from small cities in the middle of nowhere in the South and their games are even now barely ever shown on tv. And even worse, when they are it just hurts to watch, especially if you’ve ever seen something that’s slightly on a higher level. In the past 100 years since the NHL had been established there had been exactly 2 polish players (or 2,5 as I like to say, since there’s a one Canadian player with a double citizenship, and that’s the best we can do for now). But within first few minutes of a game that until this point I had been barely aware it existed, I decided that yes, this is my new favourite thing. And for the past 4 years it really has been. I had to learn how to find NHL games online, because up until last year they were never shown on TV, and I had to learn basically everything about the sport itself, because it was one of the few that I never had to follow, but somehow I managed and as silly as it seems, being a fan and having something else to focus on, a distraction, helped me a lot during some of the worst moments of my life.
So after finding something that was just my own, I suddenly could be just as interested in all the other sports that I always tried to hate. So I still sit through tennis matches with my mum, rather that now, I have my own favourites. Suddenly I can be almost just as happy as everyone else when our national team wins a match, no matter what game it is. And in exchange my mum sat through the World Cup of Hockey and World Championships, and when she knows that one of my teams was playing the previous night, in the morning she will ask me about the score. During the playoffs my dad actually sat with me until 4am (well, at least on the weekends he did).
This year, NHL players are allowed to go to the Olympics. Without going into the details of it, the team owners didn’t come to an agreement with the IOC and IIHF, mostly because they didn’t want to risk losing money. But there’s also the second best hockey league in the world: the KHL, that consist mainly of Russian players. So funnily enough, up until a few weeks ago, Russia was guaranteed gold medal in men’s hockey, something they haven’t been able to achieve since the Soviet Union won in 1988 (unless you count the 1992 Unified Team, since it consisted mostly of Russian players). Now we know that it obviously is not going to happen, but maybe the players will still be able to win while being on the unified team. But still, without the best players in the world, and the rivalries between the countries having been somewhat belittled, the event is shaping up to be a little different than the one that I last saw.
So this year’s Olympics are going to be different, maybe less exciting, but no matter what I will still watch it because even though I am fully aware that sports are not as important as some people like to believe, or actually compared to everything that is going on in the world they’re basically irrelevant, and nothing is going to change if my favourite team or player wins, for some reason I still care about it. So I get excited about the Olympics, I want to find out how Polish athletes and national teams do, even if that means staying up until 3am just to see them lose, because no matter how irrelevant it is in the grand scheme of things, and no matter how naïve it sounds, I’d like to believe that sports had kind of a big impact on my life.
So here it is: I care about Olympics, it helped find one of favourite things but also learn how to appreciate every other sport that for years, I really tried to hate. It’s either that or maybe my love for sports is some kind of strange case of Stockholm Syndrome, that unfortunately it might be too late to get out of.