Nathan Hansen's column: Squatting for the Olympic spirit
With the 2014 Winter Olympics — official motto: Everybody’s Second-Favorite Olympics — just a few months away, it seems like everybody’s getting into the spirit.
The Olympic torch is making its way around the world and even into space on its way to Sochi, Russia. Athletes are fine-tuning their bodies to compete against the best in the world. And in Russia, presumably, hundreds of contractors are screaming into their cell phones, “You wanted that stadium done WHEN?”
Olympic Fever is even reaching underground. Not to the Kingdom of the Mole People, obviously. They want nothing to do with the Winter Olympics since they lost the 2002 bid to Salt Lake City. Just to Moscow’s subway system, where for at least the immediate future would-be passengers can offer up 30 squats in place of the roughly 90-cent fare they would ordinarily pay. The idea, I suppose, is that the Olympics should inspire people to be more fit, not just to sit on the couch all day and watch other fit people ski or skate or do a different kind of skiing or, um, a different kind of skating. And that the best way to demonstrate your fitness is to repeatedly crouch down in the middle of a crowd of people who would really rather just get home after a day at the office.Also, maybe they’re hoping to record some segments for Russia’s Funniest Home Videos Not Shot With Someone’s Dashboard Camera.The squats have to be performed in front of a vending machine-sized contraption that will measure just how well you’ve done your job. And also presumably yell encouragement in a computer-generated voice. “You call that a squat? My great aunt Apple IIc squats better than that!”I’m not sure why they would design the machine like a middle school gym teacher from the 50s, but I bet they did.According to state-run Russian newswire RIA-Novosti, Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zukhov, the crouch-centric kiosks are all about getting people in the spirit of the Games.“We wanted to show that the Olympic Games is not just an international competition that people watch on TV, but that it is also about getting everyone involved in a sporting lifestyle,” he reportedly said. “Any world-class athlete will tell you they spend, like three-quarters of their day squatting, so this is the perfect way to recreate that.”It’s possible I made up the second part of that quote.Getting people in the Olympic spirit is an admirable goal. It’s a remarkable event. But there are other ways to promote an active lifestyle. You could encourage people to walk or bike where they’re going instead of taking the subway. And if you wanted them to feel like real Olympians, you could start handing out performance-enhancing drugs at every stop. But then you wouldn’t get to build a big counting machine.I have a few other concerns with this plan. I’m pretty sure in one of the early drafts of the Terminator script this is how the rise of the machines started. First we do squats for them, then burpees, then they design relentless killing machines that hunt us through time and become governor of California. Fun fact: The evil computer network in the Terminator movies was called Squatnet before it was changed as the result of a typo in the final draft.That’s what I remember seeing on a DVD commentary one time, anyway.The plan also raises some questions. Namely, just how much additional fare would the average American pay to avoid doing any squats at all?“You want me to do exercise to ride the subway?” They would say. “Can I at least put down my 96-ounce coke and my bag of mini donuts?”It’s possible this could all work, of course. Thousands of Russians could find themselves thinking, “Hey, my thighs are burning, just like I bet that skiier’s thighs were burning just before he lost an edge at 60 miles per hour and shattered his femur.”And then, in the true Olympic spirit, they would go out and club their greatest rival in the knee.