Monday, February 27, 2006

Olympics - The Skateboard Crowd Wins It--The Arrogant Lose

Another 2 week party in some frozen mountain town has ended, and a bunch of young folks collected medals under their nation's name. And for the U.S., we finished second in the medal count. In all, not too bad. But the real performers--and the real spirit of the U.S. team were the most unconventional sort--the skateboarders.

Shaun White, the redhead snowboarder, was a marvel. Also, the snowboard races were equally compelling. Shaun delivered as did his single-boarded teammates. As far as blades go, one of my favorites, Apolo Ohno was a true U.S. hero. His short track performance and his unfailingly professional attitude won him high marks, but also, no small degree of gold. These were guys who were serious about their performance, serious about their sport and serious about their team.

And then there's the other side. Bodie Miller. Favored for five gold medals, but unable to make the podium. And in some cases, unable to finish races. His slolem performances where he hooked gates weren't great, but doing it twice is not the kind of thing that should happen at the Olympics. He looked horribly winded when he finished each race, and appeared out of shape. Bodie, known to drink while skiing, may have finally received his comeuppance for his "bad boy" behavior. And this much is disappointing. While other athletes are working hard for a spot on the ski team, Miller gets it and blows it. And I wonder how Nike feels about it? They paid a bunch in endorsements which were aired contemporaneously with his blowouts. Which is Nike's second Olympic miscalculation: in 2002, when the Olympics were in Salt Lake, they passed on a deal to supply the U.S. team's uniforms. The contract went to the Canadian company, Roots.

Character counts. At these Olympics, it generally won.

The only exception to the ego/disaster dichotomy I drew was the tiara-wearing Julia Mancuso's gold. But the best wisdom came from another person of wonderful character, Picabo Street, who was highly critical of her successor's sissiness. The Olympics are a place for tough attitudes. Not the kind of silliness we saw from some of the members.

But the worst rivalry, that of Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick seemed to mellow. Granted, Davis may have made a bad choice by not joining the pursuit event, but his performance was nothing short of excellent. Likewise with his rival and teammate, Hedrick. But athletes do strange things for reasons that make sense to them. And it cannot be ignored that Shani cheered for Hedrick when Hedrick was racing. Two good guys, whom I hope ended up seeing the good in one another.

A good set of games where character--for the most part--won.

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