slouching toward bobsledom

Rant #945b: In Which I Hate America and I Also Hate Your Freedoms

I have been an Olympic obsessor ever since I was eight years old watching the 1976 Games and falling in love with Nadia Comaneci. My favorite was probably the 1992 Games in Barcelona because I had just been there, and for some reason, the competitions seemed addictively emotional.

The last time I complained about Americans in the Olympics, three things happened: everyone (including my wife) told me I was a butthole; I posted a picture of Misty May’s derrière that became one of the leading search terms for this blog; and I predicted the Tar Heels’ 2005 NCAA Championship three months before the season even started.

Two years later, I’m sure I’ll still get shit for this, but I’m completely underwhelmed with our team, and find myself rooting for Fins, Aussies and the Norse. Take Bode Miller: I don’t care what he does with his off-hours, in fact I wish him all the whoring and freebasing he can fit in. When he admitted he sometimes drank booze before skiing, pundits around America chastised him for being a bad role model, but I just thought none of these pundits had ever been to fucking Aspen.

Their hand-wringing was such crap; government health officials and sportswriters at small papers never find a parade too inane to rain on. Let’s face facts: American sports heroes stopped being role models about fifteen years ago. Jordan and Rose gambled, Kobe raped, every millionaire goes on strike every three years, and Charles Barkeley is a self-admitted asshole. The Olympics are often no better, as our 2004 Men’s Basketball team of prima donnas slept on the Queen Mary and rode the Hubris Train all the way to the BRONZE in a sport WE INVENTED.

(On a side note, it means taking back the gold in 2008 will be a source of pride, and who benefits? Koach K, of course, who will be lauded as the man who brought glory back to the Americans. In reality, it wasn’t Larry Brown or George Karl’s fault nobody would listen to them in 2004. The whole thing fucking stinks, and I’ll be rooting for Croatia.)

Anyway, million-dollar Nike endorser Bode Miller, after finishing fifth in the event he was supposed to dominate, said the Austrian guy had a once-in-a-lifetime run and he could never have beat him. A half hour later, a Frenchman did. In essence, Miller never took responsibility for his performance, simply lamely choosing to believe he ran into a buzzsaw. The extra 15 lbs in his gut might not have helped either.

In her article (don’t bother, it’s a NYT paid subscription and you wouldn’t have read it anyway), Selena Roberts quotes skier Damon Rahlves on his 10th-place finish: “Whatever.” “Whatever” is the “fuck you” of all spirit, and I should know, my generation invented it.

Hannah Kearney, the favorite for the moguls, didn’t even qualify. Apolo Anton Ohno – 1500m gold medalist last time – slipped while needlessly trying to pass another competitor during the preliminaries and is out of the competition.

Despite NBC’s desperate lunge at keeping Michelle Kwan in the news for three straight weeks, she’s about the only one showing some class. She knew she wasn’t good enough to compete and stepped aside, not even staying to do commentary.

Shaun White (the “Flying Tomato”) is another kid who is just too innocent and loves snowboarding too much to be blinded by pride and the blazing sun of future endorsement deals. I love this kid, and indeed, he’s making my hair of 1985 super cool again. And Joey Cheek, donating his $25K to Darfur? Stud.

But they seem like exceptions. The Olympics are far from over, of course, but they already taste funny. The public relations maven of the United States, Bill Marolt, gave Team USA a brand name tagline plastered over everything they touch: “Best in the World.” Like most American moves of late, it lacks nuance, seems stunningly obnoxious to every other country, and isn’t even true.

If you plan on being less-than-stellar, at least act graciously; if you plan on being an unflappable rebel, at least win something – but to be both is now quintessentially American.

0 thoughts on “slouching toward bobsledom

  1. furious

    Nice post. I disagree with you about Kwan: I think she should have stepped aside BEFORE she relegated Emily Hughes to alternate. But you’re spot on with the others.

  2. Just Andrew

    there are Olympics going on? Hadn’t really noticed.
    Can’t get into snowboarding, much like skating – if it needs judges to decide who did it better, it just isn’t a competition in my book. A competition requires some quantifiable – a time or an earned score, not the arbitrarity whims of some old doofi.
    But people like American Idol too and buy the records of the singers they crank out (and again, singers, not artists is a big distinction here.)
    Thank God it is college basketball season or my TV wouldn’t be on at all.

  3. LS

    Wondering if you read Esquire magazine at all, as you might like the article in the most recent issue; “Hating Coach K”. Also recently delved into your archives and read about your favorite college moment, when a gorgeous girl kissed you while dancing and you never saw her again…she is my daughter’s aunt, and still lives here in Chapel Hill. It proves again how few degrees of separation there really are in the world. Hoping you’re enjoying the snow, and wishing Chapel Hill would get some. Taking Tessa’s movie about her dad to my best friend’s house this week-end, found it as well from your blog. SO this Duke fan says…thank you.

  4. Kevin from Philadelphia

    I agree with Ian on all points, but really I just find the summer games to be more “watchable”. First, there are far more competitors (I don’t see many sub-Saharan lugers), and as a competitive swimmer myself (I am only 25, and still trying to make it to Olympic Trials) I just enjoy summer sports more. Misty May and Kerry Walsh help with the watchability.

  5. Andy

    Ian – at least you HAVE an opinion about the Olympics. I don’t even care that they are on. The whole thing seems so “packaged” to me now that apathy has taken over. Which is worse?

  6. Matt

    I love the Winter Olympics. I’m a hockey fan, so naturally that plays a big part, but I’ll even watch the luge, bobsled, curling, and other sports that I won’t even think about for the next four years. It’s the drama that I find irresistable. Is some guy or gal from Nowheresvilles going to step up and win a Gold Medal in the biathlon, or whatever, before going back to his or her job at Home Depot?
    Which brings me to my only real gripe about the Olympics. I wish we’d go back to fielding college kids for the team sports like hockey and basketball. It’s much more fun to cheer guys whom you’ve never heard of, and who are doing incredible things on the ice, than it is to watch 44 yro Chelios loaf it around the blue line; or hear some over-paid super star complaining about the food or the help at the hotel’s concierge desk. Give us the Mark Johnsons, Buzz Schneiders and Mike Eruziones.

  7. Kevin from Philadelphia

    Matt wrote:
    “Which brings me to my only real gripe about the Olympics. I wish we’d go back to fielding college kids for the team sports like hockey and basketball. It’s much more fun to cheer guys whom you’ve never heard of, and who are doing incredible things on the ice, than it is to watch 44 yro Chelios loaf it around the blue line; or hear some over-paid super star complaining about the food or the help at the hotel’s concierge desk. Give us the Mark Johnsons, Buzz Schneiders and Mike Eruziones.”

  8. xuxE

    i agree kwan should have stepped down earlier instead of throwing her weight around just to get over there, but i do have some sympathy for her, because the window of opportunity is so small since these things come maybe like twice during an athlete’s peak performance age.
    but i tell you what, i haven’t really watched since i was a kid, and i am now watching with my kids. basically, the shit is for kids, not cynical ass grown folks! i mean, you’ve seen one double axel, you’ve seen them all, but from a kid’s vantage point it is fucking amazing.
    we were watching the speed skating and my 6 yo says “imagine if i was the fastest kid skater in the world!”
    and during the female snowboarding (US has a 16 yo girl, by the way) we’re all ooh-ing and aah-ing when they catch air and spin, and he goes, “can i do that?”
    hell fucking YES.

  9. Sarah

    I was born in 1976 but I watched the Nadia film over and over when I was a kid and recently picked it up on VHS (couldn’t find it on DVD). I still love the story.

  10. Alan

    While it is likely that you hate it because US TV coverage sucks so bad, I really suspect that you just hate it because you know we of the north are going to kick you asses in Men’s and Women’s hockey…again. Maybe your team will trash their Olympic village rooms again in their stomach-churning soul-wrenching realization of sheer despair placed before each them and all the world to see that they simply are not…Canucks.
    I am even cutting a trip to your fair land to get back north across the border for Monday’s Woman’s final at 2 pm EST. That is one vicious game. With any luck your team will make it to it.

  11. Ski

    Glad you spotlighted the snowboarders, as they reflect the Olympic spirit every athlete should possess. Shaun White took full blame for his botched first run, saying he “wasn’t paying enough attention” to his landings. He then went on to a flawless second run that earned him the Gold.

  12. GFWD

    xuxE, your comments about your child’s reaction is the reason for the Olympics. They aren’t for the overweight, out of shape cynics north of 35 years in age who probably never could have adhered to the stringent discipline required to be a true Olympian.
    Rather, it’s for the kids like me who, in 1980, after seeing Eric Heiden skate to a record 5 individual gold medals with his signature one arm waving behind him as his legs propelled him to blow past the competition, imitated him on the rare occasions my mother took us to the only ice rink within 100 miles of our house.
    It’s knowing where you were and getting goose bumps everytime you hear the clip of Al Michaels asking if you believe in miracles.
    Even now, at 35, it’s running downstairs, pausing TiVo and getting excited about some flying tomato just because that kid (regardless of anything else he does or believes) is the very best at riding a snowboard on a half-pipe. I’ve never been on a snowboard and probably never will. But I’ll never forget that kid’s winning run or watching him embrace his family afterwards.
    The bullshit of the Olympics has been around since they brought them back in 1896. They’ve been canceled because of wars, boycotted because of superpower pissing contests and subjected to that stupid pay-per-view system last decade.
    If you boil down the extraneous annoyances, however, it’s still about exactly what xuxE’s kid said. And, for the record, I still call that soap opera theme music, “Nadia’s Theme” and not by the title of the show.
    Lay off Kwan, too. She got hosed back in 1994 because that horse-toothed skater got placed on the team after Kwan fairly qualified because Tonya Harding’s husband thought it would nice to give Kerrigan some knee music. The fact that she withdrew in a timely fashion still allows Little Hughes to get to Italy to compete. If anything, Kwan just saved her the drudgery of sitting through that pedestrian opening ceremony.

  13. Anne D.

    Two words: Women’s hockey. Still a bunch of amateurs and college kids. Fun to watch. None of that smashing people to a pulp on the boards etc. The Canada/USA contest should be a doozie! I was in on the ground floor of women’s hockey (my university had the first women’s team in the US, and I played on it), so this is a BIG DEAL to me! Four of our alumni are playing on the Olympic team, including one of the two goalies. Rah!
    Apolo will rise again. He’s got another three or four events to compete in, starting Wed. night. And yeah, big love for the Flying Tomato. That’s the spirit!
    Shout out to Mary (Bozoette): If you are reading this, can you e-mail me? Your blog host crashed and I feel lost! :-)

  14. Amy

    How about one of our female snowboarders having “the most explosive run” that one of the announcers had ever seen and “blurring the line between men’s and women’s snowboarding” last night?
    And how about that Chinese skater who choked on the thrown quad, landed straight on her knee, slid into a groin-wrenching middle split, and got up to skate a silver-medal winning performance?
    And how about that Swedish?/Swiss?/Danish? defending champion in the men’s pursuit who fell in the opening seconds, left the stadium dead-last, and then passed seventy-five heaving cross-country skiiers, one by one, to win the silver?
    I can never remember any of their names–I can’t even remember what country they’re from–but for me, it’s not about that. I’ve been jumping up and down in front of the TV, crying and cheering, many times during this Olympics because it’s about the guy who does something I wouldn’t do. I’m inspired by the sweat and the risk and the triumph of the fucking human spirit, more than any flag.

  15. furious

    GFWD, OK, maybe that was too hard on Kwan, but I guess I am still bitter from when she was so presumptuous as to have her demo skate at the end of the ’02 games be to “Fields of Gold.”
    But I agree about the thrill of the sports: very real. And having watched Nagano on the Canadian Broadcasting (I even learned the rules for curling), I will second the comment about the weakness of the US TV coverage.

  16. furious at furious

    How could you have been bitter about one of Kwan’s most breathtaking and heartfelt performances? First of all, that piece was choreographed (and first performed) in honor of the 1961 U.S. figure skating team that was killed in a plane crash. The fact that she still performed it – and gave it more real emotion and heart than anything you ever see at the Olympics – after NOT winning the Olympic gold is remarkable. If you really think she was being presumptuous, then you A) must not have watched the actual performance and/or B) you have a heart of ice. I think you missed the point.

  17. furious

    Then maybe it was double-valenced. I did watch it, which must mean I have the ice heart. And while it may have been intended as such a tribute, it seemed also to assume that she herself would have already won gold, and therefore be in such a field herself. or maybe I’m just too cynical.


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