When the Summer Olympics start, will you be watching? | Joel Willits

We’re a mere six days away from the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China and I’ve got one question for you: are you excited?

We’re a mere six days away from the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China and I’ve got one question for you: are you excited?

Because I’m twisted with emotion.

I want to care about the Olympics, I really do. It is the most prestigious sporting competition in the world. But for whatever reason, I just can’t get into it. Not this year.

Part of it is location.

Beijing just doesn’t seem ... right. Already there are media reports saying, despite the Chinese government’s assertion to the contrary, that Internet censoring is hindering reporters access to some sites. What a great place to have the competition that is all about the human spirit - in a region whose government still insists on crushing it.

Part of it is the disconnect and lack of media attention.

Sportscenter rarely opens up with clips of the top high jumpers in the world. Track only makes the show’s Top-10 Plays if 1) someone breaks the world record in the 100 or 2) someone gets hit with an errant javelin throw.

We seem to know every little detail of our MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL heroes. Heck, we know more about NASCAR than we do about the fastest men and women in the world.

That said, there are some compelling storylines.

Michael Phelps is on a mission to dethrone Mark Spitz as swim king. Spitz won seven gold medals at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Phelps won six gold (along with two bronze medals) in 2004. It will be thrilling to watch the Michigan Miracle Man attempt to bring down a legend.

As always, I’m interested in basketball. Can USA’s “dream team” come together and win gold? Or will typical NBA attitudes deflate a shot at greatness?

There’s also the local angle.

Bellevue’s very own Anna Mickelson-Cummins is hoping to win gold in women’s crew. She’ll be competing in women’s pair and women’s eight this year after taking silver in the 2004 games.

Then there’s Renton’s Aretha Thurmond. Thurmond went by the name Aretha Hill when she dominated the field scene for UW, earning a ticket to the Husky Hall of Fame in 2006. Thurmond, who will celebrate her birthday in Beijing, has competed in the last two summer Olympics without medaling. That’s something she’s hoping to change soon.

So I’ll tune in. If the Chinese government lets me.

Joel Willits is the sports reporter for the Bellevue News. He can be reached at 425-453-5045 or at jwillits@reporternewspapers.com.