Edit desk: Why the Olympics matter


Mikaela Shiffrin bolts down a sheet of ice at Yongpyong Alpine Centre on her second run in women’s giant slalom.

Jake Epstein

She crosses the finish line with a combined time of 2:20:02 minutes, meeting a rowdy and patriotic bunch. American flags are frantically waved.

Sitting in first place with one athlete left in the event, her time is enough to secure her at least a silver medal.

Manuela Molgg of Italy crosses the line with a combined time of 2:21:20 minutes, landing in eighth place.

Mikaela Shiffrin drops to her knees, and the crowd goes nuts.


This was just one of many memorable moments for Team U.S.A. during the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics.

Women’s hockey ended a 20-year gold medal drought, men’s curling won its first gold medal ever and Shaun White secured a near-perfect score to become the first three-time gold medalist in snowboarding history.

While Americans continue to excel abroad among the world’s most premier competitors, stateside interest in the Olympic Games has declined.

According to USA Today, NBC’s viewership for the 2018 Winter Olympics dropped 17 percent from the 2014 games in Sochi. In 2002, the Winter Olympic viewership in Salt Lake City displayed all-time peak popularity.

Additionally, according to NPR, ratings during the Summer Olympics between London 2012 and Rio 2016 dropped by over four million viewers on average during prime time.

It is unfortunate to watch our domestic Olympic viewership decline because they bolster such important values. For this reason, ever since the London 2012 Olympics, my interest has been growing.

Coming to Lehigh as a hardcore Boston sports fan, I’ve spent an excessive amount of time arguing and defending my teams and attacking other teams. Any other Boston, New York or Philadelphia sports fan would do the same.

When I’m home, I can easily talk about my favorite teams because everyone roots for them together, but at Lehigh, it is more difficult to talk about the Patriots while simultaneously trying to avoid banter and jeers from my peers.

It is relieving to come together with my friends to support one team — to be on the same side.

To me, the Olympics represent one of the few times where Americans can have a sense of camaraderie for one team: The American team.

When I was 14, I was fortunate enough to see men’s soccer and handball competitions at the London 2012 Olympics.

On my way to the handball venue, I walked through the heart of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where the majority of the venues were located.

The energy was electric.

Groups of people wearing jerseys, flags and other gear representing their countries were mingling, dancing, laughing and celebrating while watching their hometown heroes compete on giant screens throughout various events.

A group of Americans with intricate face paint designs and Uncle Sam hats asked to take pictures with my family.

“Go, go Team U.S.A.!” they cheered.

I saw Argentine fans sharing food with a large family sporting Uruguay soccer jerseys while German and Australian fans kicked around a soccer ball.

The Olympics aren’t just meant for people of the same nationality to come together and celebrate competition between nations. The Olympics are for the world to come together to celebrate the best in sportsmanship.

We don’t see trash-talking in the Olympics like we do stateside in our professional leagues. Nothing but respect is shown before, during and following each event.

One of the final events I watched in the 2018 Winter Olympics was women’s 500-meter speed skating.

Japan’s Nao Kodaira took home the gold medal over South Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa, who was competing before a  hopeful and flag-waving Korean fanbase.

Sang-hwa was crying and distraught until Kodaira came to her side and placed a comforting arm around her shoulder.

This is what the Olympics are about — celebrating the significance of sportsmanship and a love for the game.

When I observe a decline in viewership and lack of interest in the events, I feel sad people can’t see past competition in sport to underlying values such as class and respect for opponents. There are values that Olympics athletes embody, which poises them as role models to many young children.

I love my teams back home but it is special to see crowds of people at an Olympic venue cheering and waving their flags with pride like I saw in London. It is a shame to see Olympic viewership decline, and I hope the games will eventually gain more popularity and surpass the current 2002 peak.

For now, we’re onto Tokyo.

Jake Epstein, ’20, is an associate news editor and columnist for The Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  2. Robert Davenport on

    My Olympic memory is a fistfight between members of the Russian and Cuban women’s basketball teams at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A bomb also exploded in Olympic Park (wasn’t there but it got full news coverage. I suppose the world is a kinder gentler place today, ha ha.

    On the positive side I enjoyed playing horse against Grant Hill and running vs Jackie Joyner Kersey (via video projection). Did well against Grant but Jackie blew me away. She didn’t have to stand in line for a half hour before running. Not an excuse just fact.

    Enjoyed the cross country skiing events and the curling. Loved the US skiers who raced together, the medal winner and the girl who idolized her as a child and who remember meeting as child and idol. Had to laugh at the Russians kicked out because of doping before the games and having some kicked out at the games. Sort of gives a bad name to win at any cost. Feel sorry for talented but demented Russians, must be something in their political system.

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