Friday, February 24, 2006

A Team of Tin Medalists

I’m not a fan of winter—biased, as I am, against the prospect of freezing one’s ass off. I’m not a fan of falling on one’s ass. I’ve fallen on my own so often, over the years, I seem to have lost my taste for it. It’s no surprise, then, that I’m not a Winter Olympics fan. After all, what is the common denominator of Winter Olympic sports? The danger of falling on one’s ass while in the process of freezing it off. ‘Nuff said.

Still, I remain a connoisseur of cultural crap. I felt obligated, at least in a casual way, to keep up on the American team’s progress at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. While I don’t care for winter sports, I am an American. Thinking back, I recalled Dorothy Hamill, Bonnie Blair, Eric Heiden and the 1980 U.S. Men’s Hockey team. Their achievements generated such goodwill for this country, both at home and abroad. In these troubled times, we could use a dose of that goodwill. I sincerely hoped this latest batch of Olympians would represent America well.

Dumbass me.

Hannah Teter, Shani Davis, Rosey Fletcher, Julia Mancuso and Apollo Anton Ohno. That’s it. The rest, as far as I am concerned, is a complete washout. And it’s not about medals. It’s not about winning, or even athletic ability. It’s simpler than that. It’s about one fundamental trait: attitude.

Attitude alone distinguished these Americans from their fellow competitors. While the 2006 U.S. team came up short in the skill department, it had ample supplies of insolence and braggadocio. If pettiness and infighting were Olympic sports, many more gold medals would be dangling from American necks. Yes, this band of Uncle Sam’s finest will go down in sports history. For all the wrong reasons.

I’m half-inclined to petition the International Olympic Committee to change its rules. Its three-medal award system—gold, silver and bronze—is no longer adequate. For this group of trash-talking crybabies, one additional medal is required. The tin medal.

The tin medal would not be an indication of physical prowess. Rather, it would certify an Olympian’s complete and utter lack of modesty, common sense and sportsmanship. It would signify the Olympian’s willingness to snipe, backstab and bicker with teammates and competitors. The tin medal would betoken the Olympian’s failure to deliver on public promises resulting from his or her blatant and shameless egotism. Any and all recipients of the tin medal, in order to participate in forthcoming games, would be required to make sincere, public apologies to their fellow citizens on national TV. Should they refuse, tin medal winners would be permanently banned from future Olympic competition.

Who, among America’s 2006 athletes, should receive the tin medal? Bode Miller? While this slaloming shmuck fits the criteria (Hell, he is the criteria!), we must remove his name from contention. In true Olympic tradition, we have to keep the playing field even for the other whining, bragging dunces. Still, his outstanding contribution should be recognized. On the tin medal itself, next to the Olympic logo, there could be an engraved picture of Miller, giving the Finger with both hands. He might as well be on an Olympic medal, because it’s damn sure he’ll never win one. And the tin medal could be given an appropriate nickname: "the Bode". All righty then!

Since Bode’s out, who’s left? Here’s the ballot:

Chad “Shani Won’t Play with Me!” Hedrick: This Texan speedskater publicly blamed Shani Davis’ refusal to participate in a men’s team “pursuit” event for the Americans’ failure to win the gold. Never mind that Shani hadn’t trained for men’s pursuit. Hedrick also promised to tie Eric Heiden’s record of five gold medals. This boasting made the one gold, one silver and one bronze medal he did snag look piddling by comparison.

Lindsey “Look Ma, No Hands!” Jacobellis: Lindsey’s a 21-year old snowboarder from Vermont. She’s also a titanic spaz. Within spitting distance of a first-place finish, she tried to pull a showboating move to impress the folks back home. Lindsey stumbled and fell, thus surrendering a 140-foot lead and the gold medal, but forever ensuring herself a spot on the Christmas card list of Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden, who sped past her to victory. Lindsey settled for the silver (Gyp! Gyp!) and a lifetime of explaining herself at every social event she’ll ever attend.

Johnny “Maybe, Maybe Not” Weir: Here’s a Pennsylvania figure skater who grabbed a lot of headlines for raiding Michael Jackson’s wardrobe and hinting at, but never admitting to, an alternative lifestyle. He did, though, readily confess to loving Christina Aguilera—which, in Pat Robertson’s Bible, is also a sin. You'd think all that hype would amount to something. At last, headlines were all Weir grabbed. He finished fifth in his event.

Sasha “Practice Shmactice” Cohen: They called her the “Silver Belle” because she habitually came in second place. But “experts” touted Sasha to be the next Peggy Fleming. Entering the Torino games, the 22-year old California figure skater declared that she was “ready for some gold”. Evidently, not ready enough to show up for her last practice session before competing. Sasha took the day off, and then showed up at her event cold and rusty. Two spinning butt-falls later, this belle was silver again. Thus was proved the old adage: “Practice makes. . .you less likely to fall on your ass and look stupid in front of the whole world.”

Michelle “In Again/Out Again” Kwan: If only she’d been a Dirty Harry fan! In “Magnum Force,” Clint Eastwood utters a piece of evergreen advice: “A man has to know his limitations.” So do California skating queens. After winning silver and bronze in ’98 and ’02, Kwan went on to rake in the Benjamins on the pro circuit. As the ’06 Olympics approached, it was assumed that nagging hip and groin injuries would force Kwan, now an old-for-skating 26, to forgo Torino. But stubborn pride and a hunger for gold wouldn’t let her. Kwan petitioned the Olympic big-wigs for a spot on the team. Deferring to celebrity, they booted contender Emily Hughes out to make room for her. But Father Time would not be denied. The day after the Torino games opened, Kwan’s injured groin told her what everyone already knew—she was too damn old and had to go home. Emily Hughes was recalled at the last minute, which gave her no time to prepare properly and totally screwed her chances to win a medal (she didn’t). Michelle Kwan limped back to California, comforted by her memories. And of course, a boatload of cash.

There are probably more I’m not aware of. Feel free to chime in with your favorites.

These U.S. athletes had a valuable opportunity. They had the chance to represent their country on an international stage. They didn’t have to win a medal in every event to do so. All they had to do was exhibit good sportsmanship. Well, they didn’t. They squandered that opportunity in favor of all the greedy, petty and egotistical Cuba Gooding/”Jerry Maguire”-type horseshit that has turned so many people off of professional sports. None of the Americans was shouting “Show me the money!” But they might as well have. It was that obvious.

It’s been said that Americans are hated across the world. I always laughed at that assertion. I thought it was just an unfounded bias that was held by small-minded people who never met any Americans. For two weeks in February, to audiences around the globe, our Winter Olympic team was America. And our Winter Olympic team confirmed this bias beyond denial. I’m not laughing anymore.


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