I wrote this before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and forgot to post it while glued to television and press reports of the horrific events going on in a part of the world we here in the US pay so little attention to. If this post seems trivial in light of current events I apologize.
The Winter Olympics in China ended recently. I didn’t watch the closing ceremonies because I knew what American television would show me. The closing ceremony would be a side show. Instead, we would be shown emotional athletes, their eyes filled with tears, in their moments of triumph or loss. Then there would be the political theatre about the Chinese committing genocide against the Uyghur people and of course, what would the Olympic Games be without a figure skating scandal? It just didn’t interest me because I had already seen all that when I was watching the Olympics over the past two weeks. Still, it feels like I missed something by not watching the ceremony.
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It’s frustrating because I love the Olympic Games. I even played a tiny role in the 1984 Summer Games with the Gold Medal American Show Jumping Team. I was an apprentice farrier and we shod some of the team’s horses in Florida the winter before the Games. They were wonderful animals and I even got friendly with some of the riders and trainers. Watching them on tv was quite the thrill.
The interesting part is I prefer the Winter Games and I really don’t know why. The only winter sport I ever played competitively was ice hockey. I use the term competitively loosely. To give you an idea of my talent level as a player all I need to do is tell you my nickname bestowed upon me by my teams’ opponents.
They called me The Canary. Why? It’s because I stood in front of the cage. On offense I stayed in front of our opponent’s cage (that’s their goal) and basically blocked the view of their goalie with my big butt. I got pretty good at deflecting shots that would come rocketing in off the slapshots of my teammates and scored some nice goals. On defense my job was to be in the other team’s way out in front of our cage, disrupting their offensive flow which, judging from the scars on my legs from all their slashing, did irritate them a great deal. To this day I think my nickname should have been The Disrupter. It sounds cool, sort of like a superhero but we rarely get to choose our nicknames in life. Ask my brother, Flood.
At any rate, the Winter Olympics started out fun for me this year. I love curling, speed skating and all the sliding sports. I really don’t care about the whole nationalist USA, USA, USA vibe. I want to see the best of the best compete on a world stage and whoever wins hopefully was the best that day and the judges didn’t mess it up. If they are Dutch’ German or American it matters very little to me. I do find it mildly amusing to see which pretty American girl the American media is going to hype. Mikaela Shiffrin, a marvelous world class athlete, got the nod this time around and unfortunately had a terrible time of it. We all have bad days at work of course but when you have a bad day on skis flying down the side of a mountain at 70 miles per hour being watched by millions around the world, it’s just not the same thing as accidentally getting someone else’s coffee at Starbucks on the way to work while scuffing your new shoes and discovering the grocery store only had unripe avocados.
What really put a damper on the games for me was the women’s figure skating fiasco. I have no idea how a Russian skater can fail a drug test and still be allowed to compete, but it happened. That wasn’t the crazy part, however. What was just bizarre to my wife Kerry and I was punishing the other athletes should that skater place in the medals. Somehow the powers that be came up with the brilliant ruling that there would be no medal ceremony for anyone if the skater in question placed in the top three. I’ve heard a bunch of theories about this, but they all sound suspiciously like guesses to me, so I consider them worthless. It smells like the corruption and incompetence the International Olympic Committee and their subsidiaries are famous for. These people should work in Congress, state capitols or even the United Nations. They would fit in seamlessly.
The worst of it was the Russian skater, Kamila Valieva, is a 15-year-old girl whose life is being run by adults who apparently don’t have her best interests at heart. Watching someone fall during a routine and getting bounced from the top spot on the medal podium is hard to take but that drama is what makes sports so compelling to watch and play. You never know what is going to happen and that’s why you play the game.
However, watching Valieva’s poised demeanor crumble into tears as all the emotion and pressure of the past days came crashing down on her after her last program should have made all but the biggest jackasses amongst us, cringe and look away. Then there was the pro-Russian crowd cheering on the young lady as she walked away from the arena, giving her flowers, and acting like she had somehow been cheated with her fourth-place finish. It looked like performance art to me and so very odd.
Is there any kind of meaningful outcome to all this? Doesn’t seem like it but I keep having this thought buzz around in my head. We lavish so much attention and praise upon athletes, coaches, politicians, and business leaders who are liars and cheats. Why? I think it happens when they become winners. Winning is what’s important in so many countries and how you get there isn’t much of a concern no matter what we tell our children about cheaters never prospering. Oh sure, we can pay lip service to sportsmanship, justice, or basic fairness on the sports talk shows or primetime pre-game shows to make it look good but that’s as far as it goes. Only losing can make liars, cheats and murderers be condemned for lying, cheating, and killing and that is a crying shame.