Monday, February 27, 2006

Closing Thoughts

I tuned into the Olympic Closing Ceremonies last night and “Saving Private Ryan” broke out. I wanted just one more kick-Bode-when-he’s-down moment. Instead, NBC aired Tom “The Greatest Generation” Brokaw’s profile of Vernon Baker, a member of the all-black 92nd Infantry who apparently single-handedly liberated Italy from the Nazis. Was it unpatriotic to flip from this to the finale of the Greatest Guilty Pleasure ever—“Dancing With the Stars?”

As I ping-ponged between the two programs, I couldn’t help but wonder:

(Ping) In the 50km cross-country race—think Tour de France on snow—what keeps skiers from bayoneting each other with their poles?

(Pong) Just how scary is Lisa Rinna’s body? Does anyone want to join me in trimming her partner Louis’ mullet in training?

(Ping) Why are there children running around the Olympic Stadium dressed up like Amelia Earhart? (“Why shouldn’t they be?” Dave replies.) Am I the only person who thinks the symbols attached to their coats look a little too much like the Star of David?

(Pong) Did someone forget to tell Stacy that the phone lines are closed? Because that story about the sick little kids at Johns Hopkins smelled a lot like Vote for Me Cologne.

(Ping) Have I died and gone to bridal heaven? There are 300 women marching down the Olympic aisle in wedding gowns—and not a groom in sight. Finally someone understands that it’s all about the dresses.

(Pong) What’s a credible recording artist like Mary J. Blige doing in the “Dancing” musical spotlight? Does she know her predecessors include That Guy From the Righteous Brothers and the Pussycat Dolls?

(Ping Pong) I’ve adored the Winter Games ever since I was too young to realize that Randy Gardner was gay. So why was I more excited for Drew and Cheryl than Tanith and Ben?

Superficially, “Dancing” works better as entertainment. The dramatic lighting, the glitzy costumes, the cheesy cover tunes (“The Final Countdown”—brilliant). Fewer contestants—10 celebrity dancers compared with 3,000 athletes—means we have a passing shot at getting to know more about these folks than whatever relative’s recent death/illness/financial hardship is affecting their performance. It doesn’t hurt that we can actually see their faces. Can anyone identify a skier other than Darth Vader? In Week 1, “Dancing”’s playing field is utterly level—we get to decide who we like best, not Jim Lampley. Bon mots from the judges, however contrived, are infinitely more fun than watching thousandths-of-a-second tick away on a timer. Who can forget Bruno Tonioli calling Stacy Keibler a “weapon of mass seduction?” Anyone remember the winning time in the Super G? Ultimately the consequences on “Dancing” are minimal. The worst that can happen—contestants are sent quick-stepping off the stage back to their comfortable C-list lives. If a favorite has an off week, they live to samba another week, thanks to our largesse of votes. With Olympians, dreams are shattered, years of training go up in flames, crucial endorsement dollars are lost. Back in the '80s, I got the distinct impression that Russian athletes would be shot or sent to the gulag if they didn’t bring home the gold. That's a lot of pressure on the viewer.

But perhaps it was “Gentleman” Jerry Rice who answered my conundrum. “People are living a dream through me.” Don’t we all believe that with professional training, in just eight weeks we too could cha-cha-cha with the best of them? It might not be a particularly likely scenario, but it’s possible. Isn’t Jerry Rice proof? Then I look at Sasha Cohen. I could practice 18 hours a day, every day, for the rest of my life, and I will never be able to lift my leg above eye level. While spinning. On ice. You want a dance floor? Clear some room in front of the TV. You want a bobsled run, get thee to Lake Placid. It’s a curious world we live in when George Hamilton is more relatable than Natalie Mancuso.

* * *

Cheap Shot

I don’t think Nike anticipated its Join Bode campaign would morph into Join the Bode Backlash. It will be hard to top the scolding Bob Costas delivered from the principal’s office, but I’ll give it a try.

There is a difference between being carefree—a la snowboarder Shaun White—and being careless. Miller says he has no regrets about leaving Torino medal-less because “I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level.” Um, if that were the point, we could have sent the Cubs Bleacher Bums in your place.

They say you are one of the most talented skiers the sport has ever seen. Do you realize how lucky you are? You don’t punch a time clock. When you blow out your knee, you have access to the best health care the U.S. has to offer. You get to travel the world without worrying about using up all your personal days. And I’m guessing you do all this on someone else’s dime—whether the American people’s or one of your many sponsors. Was it too much for us to ask in return that you treat the Olympics like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, not a two-week, all-expenses-paid pub crawl.

Somewhere in the U.S., another skier watched the Olympics on TV. You took up his spot on the team. You didn’t deserve it.


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