Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Olympian Thoughts


My parents didn’t watch sports, but they did watch the Olympics, only because Norway generally gave a good account of itself in winter. As a child I found this rather embarrassing, not because Norway won a lot of gold, but because it only won gold in the sports no one ever heard of -- events involving snowshoes, moose hide, and fish. While glamorous ski jumpers aspired to a Telemark landing, it wasn’t the guys from Telemark who tried to land it.

I’m of course old enough to remember the Olympics during the cold war era, which was the primary reason I did watch it. We in the West were the good guys; the communists took steroids. And for awhile, that had an element of truth. You could instantly identify the woman swimmer from East Germany; she looked like Schwarzenegger in a one-piece. At the other end of the spectrum, the female gymnasts from the Soviet all had the body of a child and the face of a grandmother, and when they talked it was at a pitch only the family dog could hear. Not sure which drug was responsible, but I’m guessing it’s banned now.

Back then, we had a dog in the fight – it was called the West and Fair Play; honest amateurs suiting up against the cheating professionals. We didn’t stop to consider that all our athletes seemed to work for the post office. We just knew the rivalry was so riveting, any contest seemed worth watching – grass growing, water boiling.

But then the Berlin Wall fell; everyone moved everywhere. Now the Austrian skater was born in Belarus. Denmark picks up a gold thanks to its citizen from Croatia. There’s only an us when there’s a them, and there’s no them there. And while this may be good for world peace, it wreaks havoc with the popularity of Curling. It also eliminates any reason to watch skaters dressed in cast-offs from a high school performance of Cabaret.

About the only thing left is to get involved in the inevitable stories involving the individual athletes. The guy who lost his mother, father, and both legs in a plane crash and came back to learn to snowboard on his nose.

Or, come the summer Olympics, we can spend the time speculating why the seedy male gymnastic coach from Romania is always hugging and kissing and holding those little, little girls. But really, we should have been wondering about that one for a couple of decades now.

44 comments:

  1. I hate the inspirational athlete stories. Ack! Don't make me listen to another one. We watched luge last night. It was pretty darn riveting in its way.

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  2. Say, along these lines, that ABC Sports "Agony of Defeat" skier was from a Soviet bloc country, and had no idea he was famous in the U.S. Of course, had that been one of 'our boys' tumbling like a rag doll down the side of the mountain, it probably wouldn't have run over and over and over again in the intro.
    In summary, hooray for Communists!

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  3. Only a few olympians stick in my mind. The one your latest read brought to brain was Susie Chafee and not for any medals but because she was in a Chapstick commercial. Don't remember any on the Wheaties boxes.

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  4. you think Nadia and Olga's coach was a perv? You're more cynical than me!

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  5. Oh, this might be my favourite post, so far! So many laugh out loud moments! VERY clever wordsmithing! I mean, just look at all the exclamation points I'm using!

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  6. Perhaps the single best word ever: LUGE!

    or, looooooooooojh, as the case may be.

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  7. Oh, fine. Now you're attacking Susie Chapstick.

    GG

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  8. Can I ask how many gold medals in Moose Hide were taken off the Californians?

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  9. Does it make me a bad person that whenever I do watch Olympics (which by the way, are there Olympics going on right now??) I can't stand the individual athlete stories.

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  10. A Nancy Kerrigan/Tanya Harding scandal would do just as nicely for Olympic popularity as another cold war, I think. What about a guy who got his legs CUT OFF by a rival, and then learned to snowboard on his nose?? Now THAT'S the sport I'm watching. And much, much better than those sob stories.

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  11. Do you hate me if one of my favorite movies is "Cool Runnings"? I used to have a poster of Mark Spitz in my bedroom - the poster with his speedo and all his medals... And I still remember Dave Wottle and Dwight Stone. Sigh. I miss the Cold War. And our 'amateurs'.
    Your post brings it all back! Thank you!!!

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  12. And what about the rules saying you can enter on behalf of a country as long as you've got ancestry there? I don't know the rules but..

    I know a guy who is a Filipino-American. He decided he wanted to compete in the luge for the Philippines and in 1988 he did. He finished last, or close to it, but he had lots of fun by his account.

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  13. I still remember the '68 Olympics when Yugoslavia basketball won the Silver but beat the Russians (at the end of that game, my dad leaped out of the armchair, whooping with excitment) prior to losing to US team. I also remember watching it on B&W and a sea of white clad people in the stadiums - do I remember wide hats too?
    I remember watching all the figure skating championships with my grandmother, broadcast with detailed descriptions of the colors of the outfits for the B&W TV audiance. In '68, Peggy Fleming, Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov...& did you know this: Norway came away from the Games with the most medals: 6 gold, 6 silver, and 2 bronze (wikiped)...
    and Dorothy Hamill in '76 - who didn't have a version of the wedge??
    And Mark Spitz in '72 - got me to integrate the swim team in '74 as freshman in HS.
    But you are so right & not cynical at all in describing the current state of OoOoO. - best I could do on the symbol.

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  14. I have a lot to add. I have been an Olympics junkie since the 60's ( when I was born). I'll get back with ya.
    V

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  15. KB, you've inspired me to entertain a couple of Olympian thoughts myself:

    1 Hey, remember the Romanian coach is still a kid at heart inside. He needs a hug too.

    2 How is Norway at giving a good account of itself with writers? Do you know of any great ones known outside of de Norwegian province?

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  16. Believe it or not, as I opened AH a news story came on TV. Yes, Karin, I almost always give my undivided attention to AH in order to savour every word. But I'm multi-tasking tonight.

    Back to the news story. A prof. at one of our universities apparently has a really good track record for predicting the medal outcomes.

    His prediction for these Games, Canada 27, USA 26, Norway 26.

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  17. I didn't know the Olympics were on either, Amy, but that's not what makes us bad people.

    It's really hard for me to care any more about things on TV because we don't have cable right now.

    But I read a great sports story today about my home town of DeKalb, Illinois. May I share? The basketball team was cited by Sports Illustrated for one of the top ten stories of the decade in sportsmanship. I thought that was pretty cool.

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  18. Think about it: The population of Norway is 4,8 millions.

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  19. Euwww. You've come out and said what I've always secretly thought about those seedy male coaches. At the other end of the spectrum, KB, you've also reminded me of one of my favourite stories/movies, Cool Runnings. Yeah, mon.

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  20. The Olympics starts sometime mid-February. Carolynn & Wayne can give you the exact date, they're hosting it.

    Is Cool Runnings anything to do with the Jamaican bobsled team?

    (Tash, I think we had some similarity in upbringing. And Mark spitz was pretty cool because I think he went back to dentistry school. Can you imagine getting your teeth filled by Spitz?)

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  21. The only thing that would grab my attention if Mark Spitz filled my tooth would be if he did it in a speedo.

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  22. GO NORSK-SA!!!

    (you think they luge in the nude?)


    wwhhooooossshhhhh...

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  23. Wow Ah. Nail on the head.

    I've had these thoughts myself but never put them together as you've done here. It's true about the dog in the fight, the skater in an outfit her aunt put together. The equestrians seemed to be the one group whose elitist roots were never hidden. Remember princess Ann doing dressage?

    While I'm on it, remember the rumors about J. Williams and the stage mothers who tolerated his behavior? Their sage advise was to keep Jimmy's attention but never find yourself alone in a stall with him. (think LA canada ec)

    Some things have changed for the better.

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  24. J Williams started the Kursinski sisters and Hap Hansen (who refuses to be my friend on Face Book).

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  25. I'm sorry about Hap, PA. (I should have added the disclaimer that equestrian is the Olympic sport I do enjoy.) My favorite rider of all time is Dr. Reiner Klimpke. I saw him win gold in dressage in the 84 Oly's.

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  26. I think it was the Summer Games at Los Angeles that I really noticed a shift away from the feel-good competitions I loved watching. Now I feel like I'm watching a lot of Wheaties boxes and sportswear icons compete. The network doesn't even think about inconveniencing people with the broadcasts anymore, and I loved turning on the TV at any time of the day or night (or so it seemed) to see simply amazing things, but it's all about programming now. Just ask Conan.

    wv virdoxe

    PS Everybody hold onto your hats, V hasn't come back yet.

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  27. I didn't know the Olympics had begun. They help me understand people who aren't football fans. Or baseball. I think gymnastics is the only event I might actually choose to watch. Ice fishing makes me cold, and I'm trying to eat more fish.

    I could have sworn you once mentioned being of Belgian stock.

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  28. When we lived in India, our parents had to "assign" us guardians. Our guardians were from Canada. The mister worked for the Canadian C.I.A. He was also an Olympic basketball referee. He did a LOT of undercover work as a referee. Got to see him TV in the later years, officiating Gold medal bball games. Makes ya wonder, doesn't it?

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  29. Remember when they used to show more competition than filler? And showed it at times we could watch it? On network TV? Now it's just too much trouble.

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  30. I always thought that Spitz had gone to dental school and became a dentist, but in 2008, when there was so much hoopla about his records possibly being broken, I learned that he had never become one. He had always wanted to be one as a kid, and he was enrolled in a pre-dental program as an undergrad at Indiana, but after the '72 Olympics he got so many offers to be a corporate spokesperson that he never actually went to dental school. So no, I don't want him drilling my teeth!

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  31. GO GO GO DeKalb!!! I'm all about some sportsmanship.

    And I'm still pondering with great care my comments regarding the Olympics. I throw out this bone.....

    In "96??? Well whenever the Summer Olympics were in Atlanta, they actually held a soccer venue in B'ham. Go figure. Well anyway, I was in the OPENING CEREMONIES.....in B"ham. I paraded around on the 50 yard line of Legion Field in .....get this......a white tee shirt and shorts ( good lord), with a cute group of teenagers and the flag of Ghana!! Well to further impress, I was a volunteer and still have the Olympic straw hat and a lot of pins to boot.
    V

    PS More at 11:00

    PS I KNOW he's a perv.

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  32. V, Why am I not surprised by any of this? Go on, continue...

    wv lavolyca

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  33. I know, I can't imagine where this leads...

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  34. I forgot what I was going to say, I'm rather fixated on the "Luge in the nude" aspect. Talk about your agony of defeat!
    V

    PS I'll bet noone is surprised that my fav winter sport is ice skating. Rudy Rudy Rudy!!

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  35. Я желаю вам всем счастливого дня!

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  36. Miss J remembers her grandparents having their console color tv tuned to the Olympics almost round the clock when she was a kid. That was long ago. Miss J barely notices teh Games these days.

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  37. Napred nasi kosarkasi!
    Brenda - Cool Runnings is a teriffic movie.
    V. - I'm gonna watch that tape of the opening!
    ...

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  38. Mark Spitz went to dental school???
    Just imagine...although my dentists (friend Annie & her husband) are quite easy on the eyes.

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  39. I'm a sucker for the Olympics. My dad was a lifelong swimming and diving coach and was Olympic ambassador in 1964. I think he would have loved it if I had taken up diving but instead I started figure skating when I was in the 6th grade after seeing DOrothy Hammill win in 1976. I was convinced that I would end up at the Olympics but after two years and way too much of my family's hard earned money I decided I'd rather BE in Caberet in high school than wear the outfits. I do have a gold medal from a regional competition. (I skated in a red glitter suit. My song was Maleguena.)

    Good times!

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  40. I got lost in my own memories for a moment but had to say, this is damned fine writing, Hiker.

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  41. I love the stories you tell about your dad, Laurie.

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  42. I remember Mark Spitz...and his multi-gold medals hanging on that glorious chest...hmmmmm

    But the Olympics that made the most impact on me were the '72 Olympics in Munich and the devastating terrorist attack. At the time, I remember being both terrified and astounded at anyone bringing politics at it's worst to the Olympics...a venue I felt should be devoid of political differences...I also remember this time as being a time of learning about the '32 Olympics in Berlin as well...later, there was the discussion about whether to attend the '78 Olympics...pretty heady stuff back then...and something that I think about and brace myself for, with each Olympics since.

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  43. Had to comment, my whole family is into the Olympics! My favorite was Atlanta because, ohmigod Alexei Nemov was SO HOT! And I was actually rooting for the former romanian as he kissed all the little girls :)
    But now I live in Japan and we're all about medals...which is okay except we don't win all that much and the news is all about the athletes being 'so close' to the medal. I wish we could just wish the athletes good luck and enjoy the show.

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