February 24, 2006

Freefallin' - a manifesto

Well of course I'm full of opinions about last night's ladies' free skate. Heck, I was up until 2:30 watching it on TiVo. And I've read various opinions out there, and I'm getting a little frustrated. So what follows is my mini-manifesto on the Torino Olympics. Please don't anyone think this is a personal attack - just sharing my opinions. (And it's my blog, so I'll say whatever I damn well please.)

I feel like all I've been hearing lately is how much of a "failure" the US athletes have been, including the skaters. How could Sasha Cohen fall? How dare Jeret Peterson put his hand down on his aerial landing? Chad Hendrick lost a gold medal!

Quite simply - wake up and get real.

First of all, the US performance at these games has hardly been a disappointment. Joey Cheek rocked the rink. Seth Westcott got a host of new fans to Snowboardcross. Men and women took a slew of medals in the halfpipe. And our women took the silver in the Bobsled.

If we were living in Turkey and those were our athletes, the whole country would shut down for a mass party. (I'm sure the lovely Tugba Karademir would agree.)

The Olympics are not about winning or losing - they're about competition, good will and trying your best. And sometimes your best isn't good enough.

Secondly - shit happens. Sasha was sporting a possible groin injury and had a wrapped leg. It's a miracle she landed ANY of her jumps. Jeret did drop a hand, but he also landed the first quintuple twisting move in Olympic history. Nobody's perfect - that's why sports are exciting. (I can't believe I just said that as a gay man, but...there it is.)

Point the third - I know our American pride swells at Olympic time, but it's also a time to enjoy competitors from other countries doing well. Let's not get all Amero-centric on the world.

OK, that's it. THAT BEING SAID...the ladies' free skate was a bit of a letdown. I had hoped Sasha would rock it like she did the short program. And Shizuka Arakawa won with a clean performance that was safe and a tad dull. Actually the most fun all night for me came from Italian skater Silvia Fontana, who put her heart and soul into her performance for the hometown crowd. It was really beautiful to see.

Ah well - we can always hope that this flawed scoring system will get revamped. Maybe someday there will be a figure skating renaissance, and we can thrill to the likes of Surya Bonaly and Midori Ito once again.


ScottE. said...

I think the problem is over-hyped atheletes who only brought a B or C game....not the A game that was hyped...and that is the "dissappointment."

My disappointment is with NBC and their horrid broadcasting. Sure they paid a gazillion dollars to broadcast and have the right to do what they want...but drawing this stuff out for 26 hours every night doesn't help much.

Anyway...that's my two cents.

DC Food Blog said...

Hey Scott! WORD! I agree with Jason about the negative effects of this whole jingoistic nationalism. For me it wasn't about Americans or anyone else winning. Actually I was rooting for a Japanese skater to win because I love how deep their field is. I want to see people performing to the best of their abilities. I am a yooge figure skating fan and have followed it for years. I went to Worlds when they were in DC and saw performances that took my breath away. I saw PRACTICES where people brought their A game. I'm sad that people don't pay attention to figure skating in off Olympic years because that's when you see people at their best.

DaveBear said...

The press gets blinded by its own expectations, I think. Every 4 years there's a quest to find the Golden Boy or Golden Girl for each sport and pin America's Hopes and Dreams on them. The press chatters with nervous excitement and enthusiasm: is (s)he the one?

We are then invited along for the ride, invited to bask in their reflected glory. It is a huge mind game, a charade, presented as though we, as a nation, are all collectively ennobled if our Golden Boys and Girls succeed, or that we are somehow diminshed if they do not.

It's a ridiculous amount of pressure to foist on anyone, and in particular onto a young person, who may or may not have the maturity to have a sense of perspective about the whole deal. When one considers the near-obsessive focus that most world-class athletes put into their training, it would hardly be surprising for certain priorities to get out-of-whack. Indeed, what always astonishes me about Olympians is how fresh and 'real' most of them seem, given a set of circumstances that should, in all likelihood, make them among the most jaded people on Earth.

Some celebrities make easy targets. Bode Miller talked a pretty big game, pre-Torino, so it's hardly surprising that he's been savaged by the press for not walking the walk.

In contrast, there was nothing shameful or disappointing in Sasha Cohen's silver-medal performance. She had an awesome short program and a flawed long program that was still strong enough to take second. Sometimes you just have a rough day, and it doesn't say anything about your skill or your focus or your determination or your dedication.

I understand the cult-of-personality and basking-in-reflected-glory are techniques that TV journalists depend on in order to build interest in the games and the athletes... but I think they go too far when they start talking about 'let down'. Placing second-best in the freakin' world is not a crappy performance, folks. It just happens to be not quite as good as first.

We should be celebrating the best athletes in the world coming together to do their thing and accomplishing amazing stuff. All of the meta-event stuff, like which countries have the highest medal count tallies, obscures the greater truth: these are people who have pushed themselves to excel, and whoever wins, that person will have earned the right to be called a champion.

For those who have worked so long and hard to get an Olympic moment, there is no shame in doing one's very best and coming up a bit short. The only shame would be not to try.

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