Athletes, on your mark, get set, knit.
Welcome to the 2012 Ravellenic Games, the most buzzed about event in recent fiber arts history. As the Olympics are underway across the pond, local knitters are participating in their own international version of the greatest games, including “events” like the bag-n-tote backstroke and hand-dyed high dive.
The “games” were dreamed up by a knitters social website, called Ravelry, where knitters can share their excitement over their Ravthlete knitting feats. Crafters form teams, pull forgotten skeins of yarn out of craft boxes and select patterns, all as warm-ups for their own Olympic-inspired knitting events.
Team Imperial, which has challenged itself to a sweater triathlon, is just one of the local teams participating in games.
“It’s something neat as a crafter to use global participation,” said team organizer Tanis Gray, who manages the social media of Shaniko’s Imperial Yarn company, “[to have] all of us coming together, to do our own version of celebrating the Olympics.”
But the United States Olympic Council does not find the games amusing and has ordered Ravelry to shut down the handspun heptathlon, charity rowing, balance beads, cowl jump and felted free style, saying the knitting games are offensive to the real athletes in London.
On June 19, the USOC sent a standard cease and desist letter to the social site, with not so standard language that knitters say takes an unsportsmanlike jab at what Ravelry had been calling the Ravelympics.
“We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games. In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work,” said the letter.
Ravelry has stopped calling their event Ravelympics and renamed the massive knit-a-long the Ravellenic Games.
The USOC, however, underestimated the power of nearly 10,000 dedicated knitters who participate in the games. There are currently 660 comments on the USOC’s website in response to the letter, and, according to The New York Times blog, thousands of people tweeted and sent emails about their frustrations to the USOC. The tweets are no longer visible on Twitter.
“This is where the USOC didn't get it,” said Bend knitter Melissa Hochschild, who has participated in all three Ravelry Games. “Ravthletes knit to honor the athletes and be part of the celebration in a little, fun way. Their letter was really insulting.”
Her thoughts are shared by many in the substantial Central Oregon knitting community. For these peaceful knitters, the actions of the USOC have put a bitter taste in their mouths when it comes to the Olympic Council.
“I thought those comments [by the USOC] were pretty off base,” said Jeanne Carver, of Imperial Stock Ranch and Imperial Yarn in Shaniko, who herself is a former collegiate athlete and Olympic development coach. “There are some grounds for protecting the name, but this is such a positive community building activity. It was not disrespectful in any way to athletes. That was pretty much a stretch.”
The massive outrage over the USOC’s letter prompted the council to issue two apologies within 24 hours.
In the end, the council’s efforts to drop the hammer on knitters has resulted in a stronger showing than ever in the Ravellenic Games. Local Bend knitters say they will never get to the Olympics as athletes, but they still want a part of the action, no matter what the council says.
“I’ll never be an athlete [at the Olympic level],” said Gray. “But it’s some small way I can participate with my patriotism and my love of the Olympics.”
Photos by Patricia M. Gray and Melissa Hochschild