On the Edge of My Seat (Closing My Eyes): Anxiety, Twitter and my Olympics Achilles Heel

Day Seven: On the Edge of My Seat (Closing My Eyes)

February 18th, 2010

When Martin Brodeur stopped the final shot in a shootout which secured Canada an all-important victory in its march towards Hockey Gold at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, I was on Twitter.

I’d like to tell you that I spent the final moments of Canada’s tense shootout victory over Switzerland on Twitter because I was interested in researching how people respond to sporting events in tweets, but the real reason is somewhat more embarrassing. Truth be told, despite the fact that I had recused myself of all personal investment surrounding Canada’s quest for hockey gold – “It’s okay if they lose,” I said naively – my crippling inability to handle suspenseful sporting events continues to be my achilles heel.

In 2002, as Canada faced off with the United States for the Gold Medal in Salt Lake City, I spent the third period on the second story of the house alternating between pacing with my ears plugged and putting a pillow over my head to muffle out any possible sounds from my family watching the game downstairs. It’s a serious issue, perhaps even downright psychological, but I just can’t handle the pressure: even when I have no actual investment, where I’m quite fine if Canada is unable to win a Gold Medal, I somehow internalize all of the pressure that the diehard Canadian hockey fans feel, and the pressure that’s on the players (some of whom are younger than I am) to perform at a high level. Basically, I am a helpless vessel for the transferral of crippling anxiety when it comes to suspenseful and meaningful sporting events.

And so I learned of Sidney Crosby’s heroic Shootout winner over Twitter, and Martin Brodeur’s clutch save was communicated to me through the same medium. In order to make myself feel somewhat better about this, I want to talk about how people were responding to the game through Twitter, and how it’s changing (or, as it turns out, not changing) my Olympics experience.

As I write this, I’m letting the DVR collect the final performances from the Men’s Free Skate in Figure Skating, which I will be watching in probably ten minutes or so (and will probably watch before I finish this piece, so stay tuned for the results). Accordingly, I am currently fighting that urge to click on that “Twitter” link in the Favourites bar above, knowing that I am missing the witty things the people I follow are saying about the tension-filled showdown, but also knowing that I would most certainly be spoiled the second I open the site. Considering that I both a) live on the East Coast and b) live in a country where a national network has turned over their entire daily schedule to the Olympics so that just about every single sport is carried live in some capacity, I really can’t complain about spoilers when you have Americans on the West Coast dealing with severe tape delays, but I nonetheless find myself extremely wary of them.

Trying to actually follow the Shootout was intriguing on Twitter, as I wasn’t following anyone who was live-tweeting the game. And so I turned to the Search bar, and put in the name of Canada’s goalie. At least then, I would pick up the tweets about whether or not Martin Brodeur was saving the shots he faced. Of course, because people would often mention Brodeur’s name in context of whether Canada scored on Switzerland’s Jonas Heller (who had a stunning game in nets), I was actually able to follow pretty well the entire shootout – the same held true when I swapped out Brodeur for Hiller when following the Canadian goalie proved too nerve-wracking. I didn’t spend a great deal of time analyzing the people who were tweeting, but it was interesting to see the variety of responses: some were panicked over Canada potentially losing like they did to the Swiss in 2006, others were hopeful that Canada would fall from grace out of spite, while there were even a few actual Swiss fans (although considering how popular Twitter is in North American compared to Europe (and the time of day in Europe at the time of the game airing), the majority of entries I had time to look through seemed to be based in the Western Hemisphere).

What I found interesting was that Twitter, which I thought would alleviate the pressure, actually in some ways made it worse. What I really need is a simple text based system where people without any emotion explain what is happening (perhaps statements of factual record as read by Stephen Hawking would do), because some excessive exclamation marks and some capital letters made Twitter very much reflect what was actually taking place. A big save was accompanied by appropriate emphasis, and a disappointing miss was met with disappointment and in some cases anger. If I was looking to get away from the sort of transfer which makes me a nervous wreck, then Twitter only reminded me how many people were emotionally invested in this game, and in some ways a commentary-free feed of the game (which I could have watched online) would have probably been about as easy on my poor, poor heart as the Twitter experience. I’m not just incapable of watching sporting events live, but I’m not able to follow them online either, at least not in a format which mimics the real-time nature of the event in question.

I don’t entirely know what’s worse, really: with a sport like hockey or figure skating, the tension is neverending, as something could go wrong at any moment, a freak shot making its way into the net or a triple axel turning into a disaster. However, with sports like Moguls or Halfpipe, the tension is over faster but is also more condensed, seeming more dangerous in some ways in that there’s only one shot, one opportunity (to seize everything…you get the picture). Even a sport like Curling, which some would consider entirely boring, can eventually come to the point where a single shot that may take 20 seconds will decide the entire game, and that kind of built-up pressure is going to eventually be the end of me. It seems like every sport has some way to take me from the edge of my seat to burying my head in a pillow, and it makes me wonder why I even bother suffering through it all knowing the emotional state it puts me in.

But on those occasions where my nationalist impulse is entirely absent, where 19-year old Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan is young enough that placing high expectations on him seems unnaturally cruel and where the real battle is between a robotic Russian and an emotional young American, I’m on the edge of my seat in a healthy fashion. I’m able to disconnect from the emotions and hope for the result that will provide the most drama following the event: in this case, Plushenko losing the Gold Medal to a program without a Quadruple jump just two days after he told a reporter that those who do not perform a quad are “not men’s [skaters],” is so fantastic that I couldn’t have written a better ending. In that situation, I can assess the various potential stories which could emerge, setting aside a remarkable comeback for the young Chan (which the Canadian networks would want me to believe, for the sake of drawing those with no other connection to figure skating) and instead focusing on either another feather in Plushenko’s cap or another step forward for those who argue the Quad is not a requirement to perform at an Olympic level in Men’s figure skating.

Perhaps when Canada is involved, I can’t quite block it out the same way. And while I thought Twitter was the solution, all it did was remind me of the sheer volume of people who were sitting there watching that game on the edge of their seat, the people not crippled by the suspense and able to enjoy Crosby’s goal as a shared experience with the rest of the nation. And next time, perhaps I’ll be there as well, although I’ll probably keep a pillow handy just in case.

Cultural Observations

  • Sorry for the personal essay as opposed to any sort of substantial analysis of the coverage – it was a particularly emotional day in terms of Olympics coverage (with Canada’s women’s curling team going into extra ends, the hockey game, the figure skating), so it kind of felt like the real story was less the events themselves and more how people responded to them.
  • My one quibble with CTV’s coverage today was that TSN, who was airing the Figure Skating in its entirety, switched away from the results soon after, so the DVR (which was recording TSN) didn’t catch any of the post-competition commentary to contextualize the victory, which I presume was on CTV but which we were unable to catch as a result of being a ways behind. I understand that you can expect spoilers from watching on delay, but it’s unfortunate they chose to switch to the main network without keeping the TSN feed going, especially since I was curious how shocked the commentators would be that Lysacek ended up winning on Technical Elements rather than Program Components, which based on their analysis was what they were expecting to be the difference.
  • As per a comment from Eva Marie yesterday about the Blue Menu commercials for President’s Choice wherein the ubiquitous CEO puts a check on Canada’s competitive, I point you towards this great piece over at Slate about how Canada’s thirst for Gold has seemed strange to outside observers used to a depiction of the nation as being quiet and peaceful and non-competitive outside of the world of hockey.
  • If there’s any other Olympic issues that you might want me to write about, do let me know: I don’t think I have the energy to write about everything about the Olympics, or to necessarily write about them every single day, but if there’s something you’re particularly interested in I’d love to hear it.


Filed under Olympics

3 responses to “On the Edge of My Seat (Closing My Eyes): Anxiety, Twitter and my Olympics Achilles Heel

  1. Hey Myles, I was wondering how the Canadian media have been handling the various snafus with the games so far. Broken Zambonis, mud, etc. I was wondering b/c it seems that some US media have been consistently blowing these events out of proportion. Drudge Report has something about a problem every day on the front page, and sport writers seem to take great delight in pointing out every situation. Have they glossed over the problems or focused on them?

  2. Kat

    I can’t speak for Myles, but in my opinion CTV, the Canadian broadcaster of the Olympics, has definitely been reporting on the glitches in the Games without glossing them over. However, I would say that the reporting still maintains an optimistic, positive tone. Probably the biggest problem reported on, besides the death on the luge track, really has been the inconsistent weather, but it’s talked about in a “que sera sera” tone, as…well, there’s nothing that can be done to change the weather.

    I feel that American news broadcasters tend to be rather dramatic, and speak in superlatives far more than Canadian broadcasters do, so it wouldn’t surprise me if American broadcasters are focussing on the glitches in the games. Sadly, it’s always easier to point out the 3 things that go wrong rather than the 100 things that go right.

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