Vail Daily columnist Warren Miller: Olympic Gold
Vail, CO, Colorado
It is already the middle of August, and in a couple of months I will have to start doing a push-up or two every day to get back in shape for a winter of (fill in the blank).
In my case it will be another winter of living in our house on the side of a fantastic ski hill with a chairlift gliding by about 200 feet away. Since 1937 I have either been skiing, teaching skiing, filming skiing or watching it being done.
While I have been waiting for the exercise season to get started in October I have been watching the Summer Olympics. I particularly enjoy listening to the commentary about high amateur morals and the status of various athletes and national teams.
There was a time when America got up in arms when they found out that some nation, Russia for example, was financing the athletes who represented them because of the status of an Olympic medal for their country.
It is no surprise to anyone that when Michael Phelps won his first 16 medals, those medals were worth $10 million a year in endorsements and other stuff. I wonder how much money the next four years will be worth now that he has 20-some medals for swimming back and forth in a lap pool.
It would be almost impossible to calculate the total annual income of America’s basketball team. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James make enough money between them, estimated at $105 million, which is a lot more than the total net worth in the local bank here on our island.
Say what you want, I still believe in the journey rather than the destination, but in the Olympic quest both the journey and the destination have to be a real enjoyable trip.
Way back when, I was going to become a ski racer in 1948, and taking advantage of all of America’s good ski racers being in Europe, I was faced with a dilemma. I was told by Charlie Proctor, who used to coach the Dartmouth ski team and was on the Olympic team himself in the early 1930s, “If you want to continue to shovel snow here at Yosemite on the ski patrol I can pay you 25 cents an hour. However, if you accept that money you will become a professional skier and thus ineligible to be an amateur ski racer.”
Ward Baker and I put down our shovels and began to train as amateur racers, and had a lot of fun doing it. Along the way, we both managed to win a little hardware and collect a lot of laughs.
During that time I could not even get the Sun Valley Ski Club to buy the gas for our trips to ski races, even though the gasoline was already over 20 cents a gallon in that part of Idaho and Utah.
We reached Bogus Basin, near Boise; Snow Basin near Ogden, Utah; the Sugar Bowl, at Donner Summit, Calif.; Mount Rose near Reno, Nev.; Jackson Hole, Wyo.; and Sun Valley, Idaho; and parked in all of their parking lots with our trailer. We brought some hardware home from every race we entered. It is in a closet somewhere and quite rusty by this time, I am sure.
No money was ever involved, but the memories we gathered are priceless.
I do wish I had been paid to do this, but it was not happening in those days. In the early days when the Olympics were being revived in the 20th century, Jim Thorpe was forced to give up a gold medal because he once was paid $25 for competing in an athletic event. You can Google Jim Thorpe. The reading is very interesting.
Hey, if there is a pot of gold to go along with a gold medal, some people say why not? But my belief is that it is not OK to be paid for an Olympic event if you examine the Olympic oath: “For the glory of sport and the honor of our teams,” or words to that effect.
I can’t help wondering why those ditzy people who interview the athletes don’t ask them important questions, such as how many miles do you think you have, run, swam, or whatever you do to earn your medal? How much money did the person who financed all of your coaches and travel spend on you? Of course, the occasional single mom who worked three jobs for a decade or so to get her son or daughter to be the best in the world can now be paid back with the endorsements that her adult child can get if they have the right agent.
The Olympics on TV are a great entertainment item every two years because there is the Winter Games, as well as those you are currently watching.
There have been no evening reviews of steeplechase on horses, dressage or other sports that require the same dedication it takes to spend 9.3 seconds running the 100-meter dash, and probably much more money to have that gold medal placed around your neck in those events.
With one-minute TV spots selling for $300,000 during the opening ceremony, the Olympics are a real money-making machine. During these times of 8.3 percent unemployment in America, I am all for anything that provides additional jobs.
The men and women who come home with Olympic gold will spawn many different jobs to take care of the endorsements and personal appearances that all of the winners and runners-up will be expected to do.
The only bad thing about the Summer Olympics is that it only occurs every four years.
What if you are an athlete and you reach your prime right in the middle of that four-year period?
I hope there is a graduate student somewhere who will add up the dollars that all of these athletes earn in the next calendar year.
Finally I wonder how two male volleyball players from Latvia, a country of 2.5 million people, were able to beat two Americans from Southern California, where they probably grew up playing volleyball in a region of almost 15 million people, and the area where beach volleyball was invented?
Food for thought.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to more than 50 publications. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto warrenmiller.net. For information about his foundation, the Warren Miller Freedom Foundation, go to
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