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Thursday, February 18, 2010

3 Winter Shames

Well, the Winter Olympics are upon us, and they appear to have had just slightly more impact on the sporting world than the WNBA Finals (yes, that league still, unbelievably, exists). For some reason, the winter games in Vancouver have become nearly as irrelevant as the host country itself, and one gets the feeling that the results of the events aren't even front page news in the host city itself. I have yet to watch a single moment of competition, and have only seen blurry clips of the tragic luge accident - which seems to have been the only newsworthy element of the entire undertaking. Gone are the days of families gathered around the television set to see some American ice princess triple axle and double lutz her way to gold; or even the morbid curiosity of watching to see if some unfortunate ski jumper will make his "agony of defeat" way into a crowd of spectators.

But amidst this globally over-hyped irrelevance there are some amazing feats of perseverance, athletic excellence, and unimaginable dedication. Unfortunately, there are also these inexplicable affairs, the 3 worst events at this year's Winter Olympics:

1. Two-Man Luge. Listen, luge is crazy enough. It's like someone took a look at an ice-coated track that was designed to be traversed in a fully enclosed bobsled and said, "Hey, I wonder if I could go down that on a really small sled in a skin tight suit and minimally protective helmet and visor." And then some crazy European guy was watching and thought that wearing full body spandex and sledding at 80 mph in front of strangers wasn't awkward enough, so invited his very close friend to ride on that same minimal sled while laying on top of him. I'm not quite certain how something like this becomes a hobby, let alone a sport. I'm also not sure the type of relationship required to undertake something like this - but every time I see it, I make the same face that Taylor Swift did when Kanye upstaged her at the Grammys.

2. Biathalon. I'm normally a big fan of Olympic events that combine things: the triathlon is an amazing test of endurance and the decathlon is widely considered to determine the "world's greatest athlete" but whoever thought up combining cross country skiing with target shooting should have been rewarded with a nice quiet room with barred windows, not their own international competition. It's hard to imagine anything these two pursuits have in common. I know people that like shooting guns, and I know people that like cross country skiing, and these are definitely not the same people. What's more, instead of shooting something cool that might actually mitigate the banality of this event, they shoot .22 caliber rifles which is the firearm equivalent of a really hard-thrown rock. I'd rather watch a Jersey Shore marathon than 10 minutes of this crap.

3. Curling. C'mon. Be honest. You knew this was on the list. What is awesome about curling is just how damned seriously everyone seems to take it - especially the Canadians. This looks more like something you play in a backyard or on a cruise ship than something that they should give out gold medals for. What's worse is that only the "team captain" gets to slide the giant rocks down the ice, the rest of the "team" gets to, no kidding, use brooms to furiously sweep the ice in front of the granite chunk as it shoots towards the target to make it go faster or slower at the captain's request. So, in review, you can be an Olympic athlete by sweeping ice with a broom really, really fast. If I won a medal in this, not only would I hide it from my friends and family, I'd refuse to sign the release so NBC would have to pixelate my face on their broadcast like a mob informant.

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I'm all for the Olympic motto: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." But I fear that somewhere along the way we forgot that it is still a celebration of athletic excellence, and not simply a persistent desire to play in the snow in front of strangers. I may very well turn on these Games at some point, if for nothing else than to see how Bob Costas can possibly add any gravitas to sledding, shooting, and really cold shuffleboard.


Jen said...

The Olympics are on?

Matt said...

I actually have watched quite a bit. My only hard spot is the seemingly growing trend of athletes representing countries with which they have extremely loose ties. I understand the desire to have the opportunity to participate in the Olympics but doesn't it miss the whole point if you have to change your citizenship in order to do so? Also, if the idea is for the countries to send their best athletes, why should they be allowed to recruit non-citizens?
I am no expert on this topic. So, if I am missing some obvious explanation, I apologize. Here is a portion of a recent USA Today article on one of these athletes:

New Jersey to Georgia:

Three siblings from Warren Township, N.J., will compete in ice dancing, though not for the USA. Allison Reed, 15, will represent the Republic of Georgia, located at the juncture of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Cathy Reed, 22, and brother Chris, 20, are skating for Japan. Their mother, Noriko, is from Japan, so they have dual citizenship.

Allison met her Georgian partner, Otar Japaridze, 22, while he was training in New Jersey. They became partners last summer. "We had like a mini-tryout when I was younger. But I was much too small for him at the time," says Reed.

Reed was just old enough to qualify for the Olympics. A skater must have been 15 by July to be eligible. She turned 15 on June 8. She was granted Georgian citizenship last month, enabling her to compete. "I'm really thankful to the Georgian (skating) federation for getting my passport and citizenship through so fast," she says.

Denise said...

Tom Hanks is on Letterman and just suggested that the biathalon should include cross-country skiing your ass off followed by trying to make the perfect French toast.

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