2006 Winter Olympics
Like many couch potatoes around the world, I spent countless hours watching TV coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy. For whatever it is worth in today's inflated market, here is my two cents.
There was plenty of fame, and unfortunately, a fair amount of shame to go around. I am sure this little rant will have a decidedly American slant because, as an American, I do tend to root for the home team and the American competitors tend to stick best to my ever-shortening memory. Among the other countries, there were countless inspirational stories of skill, dedication, courage, and pure determination from athletes whose names I cannot not pronounce, much less remember, and from countries that I could not point to on a map. It is inspirational to see a single athlete representing some small country. One man or woman who decided that, regardless of their chances of bringing home a medal, their country must be represented and went the extra miles, often overcoming tremendous hardships, to go to Italy, carry their flag, and BE the Olympic dream for everyone they represent back home.
FAME: Some of the memorable moments that stand out in my mind.
Michele Kwan: A class act and true professional. Even though she did not even compete, she tried, and when she realized that she could not be the best representative of her country, she stepped aside so that Emily Hughes could take her place. Afterward, Michele turned down some very lucrative broadcasting offers from the TV networks and left Turin so that her media attention would not be a distraction to the skaters who would compete. I'm sure Michele was heartbroken that she could not fulfill her dream of finally adding that missing piece to the overflowing trophy case of her stellar career and I'm sure she must have wanted to stay and watch the games, but she exited with admirable grace and humility.
Apolo Anton Ohno: The picture of a dedicated athlete. He lives for the game, the competition. His fame from past accomplishments have afforded him the lifestyle of the rich and famous but he chooses to be an athlete and live, train, eat, sleep, and compete like an athlete. He gives it his all and focuses entirely on the reason he is there, giving no credence to the hype and politics that tend to leech onto the events. Apolo is another class act and serves well as a model of what an athlete should be.
Hermann Maier of Austria: Never give up. This man keeps coming back even after age and a terrible motorcycle accident would have logically ended the athletic career of a normal mortal. But he is there and continues to be competitive, bringing home a silver medal in the Super G and a bronze medal in the Giant Slalom. The Hermanator is one of the true icons of the Winter Games.
Shaun White: You gotta love this kid. The exuberance of youth and excitement of the moment gushes from him. Snowboarding is an American invention and some critics say it is included as an Olympic event primarily to up the U.S. medal count. I think it is true that snowboarding is more of a American teenager sport and does not demand the endurance and strength of most of the other Winter Olympic events, but it does require a high degree of skill and training. Shaun White decided he wanted to be the best at what he does and dedicated the effort to get there. He seems somewhat overwhelmed by his own success but relishes the moment and wants to experience it to the fullest.
Sasha Cohen: Her figure skating short program was spellbinding. When she is on, she is ON! I love watching someone who obviously loves what they are doing, especially when they are so good at it. Sasha received a lot of criticism for not winning gold in her long program. She gave it her best but she just wasn't "on" that day. She knew it going in, you could see it in her eyes. Maybe it was injury. Maybe she simply didn't feel it that day. We have all experienced that in some way. You just know you're not in the groove today no matter how much you want to be. However, few of us have experienced the pressure and expectations of having to be at your very best, be perfect, at that moment, those scheduled four minutes when the whole world is watching. She gave it a valiant effort. After stumbling a couple of times, she gathered herself up and continued to be the true professional she is. I don't know if that particular performance warranted a silver medal based on the Olympic scoring system but her drive and professionalism earned gold in my mind.
Chad Hedrick: Excellent job! You gave it everything you had and brought home three medals. Your dedication and team spirit is to be admired. I could have done without the public airing of your disagreements with Shani Davis but you have a right to express your disappointment.
Hannah Teter: What a nice breath of fresh air to represent the current and next generation of athletes. I will admit that snowboarding earns the least amount of my respect of all of the winter games. I may be entirely wrong, but it just doesn't seem to require as much skill, strength, or endurance as nearly any of the other sports. But, that said, Hannah excelled in her sport and really put it down when it counted. She is a delight to watch and clearly loves what she does.
Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto: Fred and Ginger on ice. See their picture under "class" in the dictionary.
Alisa Camplin of Australia: She is 31 years young. It has only been four months since her second serious knee surgery. She has had less than twenty days of jumping since her last surgery. And here she is, taking home the bronze medal in the women's freestyle aerial skiing at the Winter Olympics for doing triple-twisting, double somersaults. She is out there competing against athletes half her age and giving them quite a run for their money. D-E-T-E-R-M-I-N-A-T-I-O-N. And a snow-covered mountain of respect.
The Olympic Committee: Excellent job. The games went smoothly. The judgments seemed to be more fair than I can remember. Kudos for finally overhauling the scoring system for figure skating. It's still not perfect but was long overdue for a change.
NBC: The network did a very good job covering the games overall. A night owl like me appreciates the replays after midnight. Bob Costas was a good choice for the studio presence. Also many good choices for event commentators. NBC also earned it's share of shame as noted below.
SHAME: There were a few things that will stick in my mind as shameful. Maybe it is the attitude of this generation of young athletes but many just don't seem to get it. They don't seem to realize that they are representing their country and millions of people expect them to perform at their very best for THEM. Several of this year's competitors seemed to have an attitude of "Oh well, I didn't do that good but hey, I'm here to party and have fun". Having fun is a big part of it. They should enjoy the Olympic experience. They should party and have fun after they do what they were sent there to do. There is no excuse for not being totally focused on your event and giving it all you have. How many people did not make the cut and get the opportunity to complete because the "better" athlete got the position and then went to Italy and turned in a half-hearted performance?
Shame on NBC for making every effort to make a big tabloid-style story out of the Shani Davis / Chad Hedrick thing. Double shame for renaming the place Turino. It was a network exec who decided that Turino just rolls off the tongue better and NBC would use Turino instead of Turin. Did you ever hear of the shroud of Turino?
Shame on Shani Davis for his selfish attitude. I'm sure a medal for individual accomplishment means more to some than would a team medal and I do respect his wishes to accomplish an individual goal. I don't know if participating in one team event would have hampered his personal goals, apparently he thought it would. What bothered me was his attitude of "me" above all else and his smart-ass demeanor when being interviewed on national television.
Shame on Lindsey Jacobellis for her performance after the Snowboard Cross. That's right I said after her performance. I cannot fault her for her performance during the race. She made a great run and then blew it when she tried to do a little showboating. It was a dumb mistake and I am sure she will be reminded of it for the rest of her life. What really got me was her interview afterward where she literally said "Oh, well". Oh, Well? Are you kidding me? Is that how little it meant to you?
Shame on Bode Miller for his attitude and pathetic lack of respect for the events and those who put their trust in him to represent them. Bode unabashedly bragged about his being there to party and have a good time. He even went as far as to criticize his "team mates" for taking the Olympics too seriously. That should be his last free ride and he should never again be selected to represent the U.S.A. I don't care what your history or ranking is. The spots on the Olympic team should go to those who are going to give it their absolute best effort. I will always root more for someone who gave it their best shot and lost than for someone who doesn't even bother to prepare, win or lose.