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The Olympic soap opera

Alan Braunholtz

Each Olympics is like a two-week soap opera with recurrent themes and plots played out by different actors every four years. It’s the variations in personality, hype and charisma that turn the Games into such compelling entertainment as well as the “I can’t believe she just did that” athleticism on display.The spat between two U.S. gold-medal speed skaters brought much-needed drama to an otherwise repetitive sport. Neither came out of the feud well; one looking bad tempered and not a “team player” and the other holding grudges while manipulating patriotic clichés to bolster his equally personal quest for a record haul of medals.NBC lapped it up and threw as much gasoline on the fire as possible. Who wants to tone down any misunderstandings when a nasty rivalry helps ratings, which is the game they’re in. Different backgrounds, different desires, a lack of communication and some great stirring by the media helped create all this.Unfortunately, the loser is the Olympic ideal of doing one’s best and friendly competition bringing people together etc. Another US skater, Joey Cheek, put everyone to shame by giving his two minutes of fame and $40,000 winning bonuses to a charity helping the Darfur region of the Sudan.Contrast the speed skaters to Julia Mancuso of the ski team, who gave up competing for the final two spots in the slalom allowing, Sarah Schleper and Resi Stiegler (the one with the tiger ears on her helmet) to race. Julia had already competed and apparently thought it’d be nice to let others play too. Kaylin Richardson pointed out earlier that competing, trying the best you can, really matters more than winning. The medal count isn’t that important. No country ever ‘wins’ the Olympics, though we have idiotic sports columnists, federation officials etc. continually talking about it sad, really. How can you compare small poor countries to well-funded large ones?Bode’s Nike adverts pointed this out and he backed them up splendidly by not winning a thing unless he surprises in the slalom, which he always can. Nike probably wished he’d won a few as ads saying, “Winning doesn’t matter, just do it” are received better when presented by “winners.”The snowboarders brought a fresh energy to the Games, young beautiful gatecrashers to a party of stuffed old shirts. Who couldn’t like hearing the lingo of “throwing down”, “represent” and “chilling” instead of the standard interview clichés? Even the suit-and-tie announcers tried the feel of these words in the mouth with a smile. Hopefully, the boarders never get accepted etiquette lessons from their agents.Then Lindsey Jacobellis threw a cool grab and crashed right before the finish and the U.S. people had to endure the shame and disaster of only winning a silver medal. She has to be second-guessing herself now but you do what you do. No one railed when the guys threw grabs in their boarder X heats. It took awhile for our press to even congratulate her on a silver. I guess winning is the be-all and end-all for us, and the reaction to a mistake of little more than enjoying the moment showed that the attitude of “silver is just the first loser” is alive and well here. Where were Bode’s Nike adverts when you needed them?Then there’s the figure skating and the bane and drain of all male spectators’ masculinity, the ice dancing. Easy to poke fun at, and the costumes can be mind boggling, but it takes guts to fly around above the ice wearing a lavender cashmere fishnet body stocking and bikinis – and that’s not mentioning what the girls are or aren’t wearing. My costume of choice would be a crash helmet and pads. Few hockey players would spring up and continue with such a fast smile as these slender girls do after being dropped or slammed to the ice from huge heights.Running back Jerome “the bus” Bettis made a surprise appearance, perhaps as an antidote to the ice dancing. The weak segue for this dive into a real sport like football seemed to be his insight into how winning felt good and fumbling felt bad; just like the victorious Italian cross country ski team and disgraced Lindsey Jacobellis. The common ground of sports! Would have been more interesting if they’d let him interview the Italian cross-country team to visually highlight how diverse the human form can be. Jerome might outweigh the combined Italian team.Curling has a strange fascination of tactics and skill. Don’t know if it’s the novelty or the high tech brooms but it sure looks more interesting than bowling. Why not have curling lanes at the Crossroads redevelopment? It’d make it different and give all of Vail’s maturing athletes a new, less physical Olympic sport to try out and excel at.The Olympics are inspiring. After watching some of the most graceful, coordinated and best bodies in the world we decide to jump-start ours a bit. The gyms fill up. People appear on the Nordic tracks and we enjoy the feel of doing a sport no matter how ineptly for two weeks or so. No material rewards – just fun. Perhaps those Bode ads are onto something after all.Judging by the salaries of CEOs compared to the worker bees, we live in a winner-take-all society. The top few’s disproportionate rewards compared to the also-rans are justified by the argument that the best are worth whatever it takes. I’m not so sure, in the Games the guys in fourth are very close and I don’t think I’d lose much if the top guys took a day off to spend with their family, have a life etc. In fact, with less of a winner-takes-everything attitude, we might all enjoy the game of life a bit more.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. Vail, Colorado


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