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Men's hoops, Howe Cup seize campus' attention; world focuses on Nagano

You've probably heard by now (after all, it's Thursday, three whole days after it happened) that our men's basketball team cracked the top-10 in both national polls this week.

Perhaps you're aware that women's hoops defeated Harvard last weekend to end the Crimson's 32-game win streak.

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If you're a real Princeton sports enthusiast you might even know that women's squash is vying for – and has a good chance of winning – the Howe Cup this weekend.

But outside our Princeton athletic bubble is another event, one that is supposed to unify the world, but isn't getting much student attention: the Winter Olympics. Many Princetonians seem to know what the Associated Press ranked men's hoops better than which country is leading the medal count in Nagano, Japan.

Such a campus-oriented sports focus is neither surprising nor necessarily negative. For many people, world happenings in general are on the periphery of college life, and that goes for the Olympics as well.

Still, something is amiss when we are pushing to the side an event with 72 countries and 2,339 athletes participating. For example, a good portion of the student body missed the Opening Ceremonies, one of the biggest spectacles in four years, last Friday as they conflicted with eating club initiations.

An estimated three billion people from 122 countries are expected to watch the Games either in person or on television, but I wonder how many people on campus saw Jonny Moseley win the first U.S. gold medal of the games on the fourth day of competition? And how many knew it was in the freestyle moguls? Or how about Picabo Street in the women's alpine skiing super-G competition?

The relative obscurity of the XVII Winter Olympic Games does seem to say something about the relative popularity of winter sports across campus and the nation at large.

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Whereas Americans are perennially among the medal leaders in the Summer Olympics, accolades for the country on the snow and ice are much rarer.

The accessibility of and emphasis on skiing, for instance, just isn't as strong in the United States as it is in other countries. It is easier to put on a pair of sneakers and run around the neighborhood than it is to put on the skis and find fresh powder. And sports like curling or biathlon just are not as exciting nor as marketable as many team sports.

The winter sports Americans expect to challenge in are often the most commercially-profitable ones, like figure skating or men's hockey.

It is not very surprising to note the number of Winter Olympians from Princeton – none – and the fact that our ski team and figure skating team (who won a competition up at M.I.T. this weekend, by the way) are both club level. But both sports are beautiful and should be appreciated, if only for two weeks.

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There may not be another bizarre Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding subplot like there was in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, but the Games are still worth watching in 1998.

We may have a lot going on in our lives, but can't we make time for the Games that call us from "Around the World to Flower as One"?

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