Friday, February 10, 2006

Winter Olympic Thoughts

Okay, here's the quiz. Name ten Winter Olympic athletes. Go on, start whenever. Sure, past or present.

Okay... Michelle Kwan & Kristi Yamaguchi.

That was easy. Thats 2.

Bode Miller and Apollo Whatshisname.

Apollo Ohno. Okay, thats four. Give me six more.

Um... Katarina Witt. What about Nancy Kerrigan?

Do you think the
Nancy Kerrigan Foundation helps kids with injured knees? Okay, you've already named four figure skaters. You only get one more skater, and the rest have to be non-figure skating people.

Fine. Jamie Sale.

Jamie Sale... the chick who won the disputed gold after the French judge finally admitted screwing everyone over in 2002's Games. What gets me about Jamie Sale is that if my very cute college friend, Jaime Bone, suddenly got hot, she would be Jamie Sale? They looked alot alike, but one is distinctively hotter than the other. I mean, do we all have hotter versions of ourselves out there? Am I Enrique Iglasius' un-hot twin? Or is there a less-attractive version of you out there somewhere, meaning you are the hot one? Where was I? Oh yeah. Three more.

Bonnie Blair. Oh, oh, and Vonetta Flowers.

You only knew Vonetta because she was from Birmingham. And Bonnie Blair, the speed skating queen from the early 90s. One more.

Um... uh... no more figure skaters, huh? Um... I'm done.

You know, its really sad we dont know more of our Olympians. Seems to me unless they win a gold medal, or some scandal happens to them
(or seem to be really hot), we haven't a clue--and don't care--about them one way or the other.

Other countries live for this junk. Smaller nations like Sweden and Norway and Nepal send only a few athletes to represent their nations, and are heavily rewarded and honored for winning medals. We here in the States? "Good job, Medal Winner. Now I'm going to go check the scores on the UNC/Duke game."

We seem to have more fun laughing at the men's figure skaters, and wondering what "team" they play for... we also marvel at the fact its lawful to have nine year olds figure skating for their country... and I am always amazed at a sport that thinks 23 years old is nearing retirement age--though Michelle Kwan, who's been going to Olympics since 1936, just turned 87 and still hasn't won a gold.

Some of the names you should be familiar with are Irina Slutskaya (can you imagine if you called some chick a "slutskaya"? she'd hit you so fast...) and
Sasha Cohen, who looks alot like a glamour shot of Rory Gilmore.

I read an article from's Jim Caple... I thought I would post it and let you enjoy his take on it. Couldn't have said it better myself--well, I would have if I could have, instead of letting him get all the good jokes:

We live in a world where people are killing each other over cartoons, so the fact that we can get together peacefully about anything -- even if includes ice dancing -- is reason to celebrate. Especially if Bode Miller is getting the first round.

If you aren't familiar with Miller's story by now, how come? The skier has been on so many magazine covers this winter, you would think he personally broke up Brad and Jen's marriage. He implied on "60 Minutes" that he has skied while drunk, but that was hardly the worst thing he has ever said. Here's what he told Newsweek about his sponsors.

"Look, a lot of the people involved with the U.S. Ski Team -- the people that I'm representing -- are unbelievable [expletive]. Rich, cocky, wicked conceited, super-right-wing Republicans. But because of my morals, my principles, I can't judge them for that. The things they've done for me warrant respect, and I'm trying to pay them back.''

Just imagine what he thinks about people who don't give him money.

Miller might be the most outspoken skier, but he's only one member of what might wind up as the most successful ski team the U.S. has ever sent to an Olympics. Miller, Daron Rahlves, Erik Schlopy and Ted Ligety are strong medal possibilities on the men's side, and
Lindsey Kildow (this chick is a 175 lbs! and all muscle) and Julia Mancuso could win for the women.

Kildow is an interesting story. She grew up in Minnesota, where she learned to ski at Buck Hill, a 350-foot slope just off a Twin Cities highway and down the street from a mall (an online review of the "ski resort" said it's a great place to drop off the kids while the parents go shopping). Blink and you'll miss it. "I don't think the Austrians have ever seen anything like it,'' she said. "I don't think they would know what to make of it.''

Despite those humble beginnings, Kildow is a favorite to win several medals, including the downhill. However many she wins, she'll be able to display them more easily than the prize she earned with a first-place finish at Val D'Isere in December -- a dairy cow. "I don't know why I decided to keep her,'' she said. "They offered me money for her, about [$1,200], but I said, 'I'm keeping her.' I liked her. It was a very cool prize. She'll give me milk for a lot of years.''

Which, oddly, is something you never hear A-Rod say about his earnings.

When last we left the Winter Olympics, Canada had nearly declared war on France over the judging scandal in pairs figure skating, but that's all in the past. Skating has replaced its old capricious scoring system with a new, improved and virtually incomprehensible system that will end all judging controversies, much in the same way the BCS formula solved all college football controversies.

There's a chance figure skating could be different in another way, as well -- the women's medal winners might be old enough to endorse something other than Clearasil and Malibu Beach Barbie. After a steady string of teenage gold medalists, the favorites -- Russia's
Irina Slutskaya and the United States' Sasha Cohen -- are all old enough to legally celebrate with a drink. And Michelle Kwan, back again for another try at a gold medal, has been around practically since Scott Hamilton had hair.

Hannibal marched his elephant-powered army over the Alps and laid siege to this area 1,800 years ago, which is nothing compared with the Olympic army. There are more than 2,500 athletes from 84 countries, and thousands upon thousands more in media, security, crew and volunteers.

"You can only tell yourself so many times that it's just another competition,'' figure skater Evan Lysacek said, "before you look up and see the Olympic rings every two feet.''

The home of Fiat, Torino occasionally is referred to as the Detroit of Italy -- although, thankfully, we won't have to read any stories about how Jerome Bettis grew up here. Like Detroit, Torino has lost many of its auto-manufacturing jobs in recent decades, but it is trying to revitalize itself in the shadow of its more glamorous neighbor, Milan (about 90 miles east). Fiat's old Lingotto manufacturing plant, once among the world's largest factories, has been remodeled into a mall. In fact, the 8,000 reporters in town for the Olympics are using part of the Lingotto as their media headquarters, representing the least amount of work ever done in an auto factory that doesn't include a General Motors layoff.

Security isn't as much of a story at these Games as at the previous two, in Athens and Salt Lake City (at least not yet). That's refreshing (so far), given that it takes a certain faith that you can hold an Olympics anywhere these days without something going horribly wrong.

Then again, faith is a major component of the Olympics. It takes faith to lie back on a luge and slide blind through curves at 80 miles an hour, or to race down the face of a mountain at 70 miles an hour, or to ski down a steep ramp and launch yourself into space as a wingless bird. For that matter, it takes faith to point your skis down a 350-foot hill next to a shopping mall in Minnesota and think you're beginning a run that will take you to the Olympics.

So pour yourself a cup of cioccolato con panna, relax on the couch and cross your fingers. The Torino haze cleared late Thursday; Friday dawned bright, blue and beautiful; and what do you know -- you could see all the way to the Alps.

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