Sunday, January 29, 2006


Benvenuto di Neve e di Gliz voi a Torino.


On this, the first weekend without football since the beginning of September (preseason games, my friends, DON’T count), my thoughts turn to what will transpire in February. Swimsuit issue? No. Dreary midwinter snowstorms? No. Valentine’s Day? Well, yeah, but that’s between me and my girlfriend. This year, we will witness the quadrennial snow spectacle that is the Winter Olympics. I’ve been hooked on this winter carnival since the USA hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” victory at Lake Placid in 1980

The XX Giochi Olimpici Invernali start on February 10th, five fat football-free days since the Lombardi Trophy is awarded to the winning NFL team at Ford Field. Located in Torino (or Turin, if you're not associated with NBC and its fascination with Italicization), this edition of the Winter Olympics is shrouded in speculation, mystery, and wonder. Even the origin of the name, “Torino,” punningly enough, is a bit cloudy.

The name “Torino” (which, by the way, is home to the Fiat car company) comes from the Celtic “Tau”, which means mountains. In Italian, this name literally means “little bull,” which unfortunately is what the NBA basketball team looks like right now, 17 ½ games behind the Central Conference-leading Detroit Pistons. Ben Gordon, Chris Duhon, and Kirk Hinrich have been spotted wandering around the Vittorio Veneto square in a daze.

Der Österreichische Astronaut, Franz Klammer, schusses down the slopes above Innsbruck in 1976.

Since 1976, when I watched the Klammer Express scream down Mount Patscherkofel with utter abandon (see this videoclip) on the way to a gold medal in the Innsbruck Games, I’ve made it a point to watch almost every Olympic skiing event. Sure, the World Cup skiing events are more important to professional skiers, but I almost never watch them.

There’s something special about seeing an underdog beat the pants out of Olympic favorites and brag about their victory, as Bill Johnson did with his infamous “millions” comment after his 1984 Olympics gold-medal performance. Not that it helped Bill down the road, as he fell into a life of injury and disrepute. Tommy Moe went one better at Lillehammer in 1994, as did Leonhard Stock in 1980 and the Mahre twins’ one-two punch in 1984.

Will Bode Miller piss off everyone and his dog? Already, Barry Bonds, Lance Armstrong, and the whole SADS organization (Skiers Against Drunk Skiing, that is) are lined up against him. Even Alberto “La Bomba” Tomba, the suave hard-partying Italian who charmed his way through the Calgary and Albertville Olympics, said of Bode, “Don’t win too much.”

The deserving young upstart on the right won’t follow in her sister’s footsteps thanks to the not-so-clutch performer on the left.

I admit, I’m one of those fellas who watch figure skating. I know, this doesn't rank up there with the other sports football fans love to watch, like NASCAR, hockey, basketball, or even pro wrestling. But when I'm with my girlfriend and we happen to be watching a sport she likes, for some reason, I find myself entranced by the grace, danger, and elegance of figure skating with its triple lutzes and quadruple axels. Of course, I've always looked at this sport a bit differently since Tonya Harding hired a hitman to whack Nancy Kerrigan’s knee, thus forever sealing the plaintive “Why meeeeee?” phrase into the annals of American white trash history.

Already, I’m furious with the USOC’s decision to let Michelle Kwan perform in Torino, despite an injury that kept her out of the nationals, where the top 3 finishers traditionally go on to the Olympics. I have an incredible amount of respect for Kwan’s talents and her place in American skating as its senior ambassador, with her 5 world and 9 national titles, but if she strikes out twice in the Olympics, she’s not ready for the big stage and doesn’t deserve a third chance. Thanks to the USOC, Emily Hughes, the younger sister of 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes, won’t strut her stuff on the ice. Unless Kwan or any of the other two starters are sidelined by injury in the runup to the Olympic event, Hughes will have to settle for staring at her older sister’s Olympic gold medal. I’ve always thought that the Olympics were a wonderful stage for young upstarts to ascend to stardom – just ask Emily’s older sister.

All a waste of time, as the U.S. skating team does not have any real favorites, and could find themselves frozen out of the medal podium for the first time since I don’t remember. If there aren’t real favorites on this team, let the rooks have their chance. ZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzz……

This picture needs no caption.

Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig, Buzz Schneider, Neal Broten, Dave Christian….unnh, huh? Hello? Was I sleeping? Is this 1980? No? Damn, I was just dreaming about them AGAIN.

With apologies to the third-world nations who were unfortunate pawns in the long-simmering Cold War between the two post-WWII superpowers, the drama between the USA college hockey team (COLLEGE, my friends, not AMATEUR and not even PRO!) and the professional Soviet Red Army hockey team has always been my most memorable storyline of any Olympics event. I was skiing in Vermont, one hour from Lake Placid, when word darted around the ski lifts that the American brats had beaten the invincible Soviets of Vladislav Tretiak, Boris Mikhailov, and Vyacheslav Fetisov! Standing in line at the ski lift, I was like, huh, what? For a country beaten down by Vietnam, the Iranian hostage crisis, soaring oil prices, and a general “malaise” (as Reagan liked to say about these years), the USA hockey team’s victory truly lifted our spirits in incalculable ways.

In this day and age, where the gaps between the rich and poor are so stark this even shows up in foreign policy, you’ll never see the likes of this again. The favorites are the Finns, Czechs, Swedes, Canadians, Russians, and Americans. Basically, it means that any hockey team that isn’t white won’t even win.

Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards -- Britain's best ski jumper.

Finally, this isn’t an article about the Olympics when I don’t make my paean to the competitive spirit of the individual, regardless of his or her relative competence in any sport. In recent years, the Olympics have lost their proletarian flavor, as more and more professionals join the Olympic village, and muscle out the amateurs who are otherwise not qualified to compete internationally. This is unfortunate, because, no matter how incompetent they are, they deserve a spot on the Olympic stage simply because they are the BEST players in their sport for their home countries. Remember Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, who made the 1988 British Olympic team as the country’s first ski jumper and, in a writer’s words, “soared like a brick into the hearts of Olympic fans across the world”? Although he was just a plasterer from Cheltenham, Eddie’s inelegant ski jumps, his dead-last showings, and even a crash on his last run at the Calgary Games earned him admiration and respect from his British peers – simply because he had the guts to risk himself in a dangerous sport (not to mention he looked adorable in those Coke-bottle glasses). His interview after one of his ski-jumping exploits is one which, in my mind, is forever a classic:

Announcer: How do you feel?
Eddie (with an aw-shucks grin): I feel great. I broke the British record.

Go faster, higher, stronger, like Eddie.

AND now, back to regularly scheduled programming. Jerome Bettis on Media Day in his hometown will bring tears to my eyes.


wikkidpissah said...

thx for the Klammer klip, slushysloop - it was the most exciting athletic moment i've ever seen outside the big team sports (and, as a reporter, i was present for Nadia's 10s in summer '76). never have i witnessed an athlete teeter between the height of his talent and utter disaster like that to achieve victory. well done -

Watership2 said...

Mike Celizic's columns are arrogant and idiotic, but I can't help but agree with him on Michelle Kwan. Here's the link to his column: