After much internal debate, I decided to get rid of my more expensive cable package last summer. I don’t watch a lot of TV, and I belong to two online movie services (Netflix and Greencine). So my expensive cable package was beginning to seem like a huge waste of money. There is one thing I miss, though: sports. I was able to watch some football, because football airs on major channels, and the World Series, but my favorite sport is basketball, and this year I’ve only caught a couple games. The TV listings often depress me. “The Celtics are playing on ESPN tonight,” I announced a week or two ago. “Too bad I don’t have that channel.” I even miss being able to watch the woeful Knicks and Nets.
This sports deprivation probably explains why I was looking forward to the Olympics so much this year. I know next to nothing about luge, curling, the nordic combined, short track speedskating or freestyle skiing, but it’s nice to have two weeks where I can turn on my TV at almost any hour and watch sports ... even if they’re sports I don’t understand. Most of the sports at the Winter Olympics are aesthetically pleasing; you don’t have to be an avid snowboarding fan or even know what a halfpipe is to marvel at the feats of Shaun White. I’d never heard of alpine skier Lindsey Vonn until just a few weeks ago, but now I’m anxiously reading news updates on her shin. Will she be able to compete? Will she medal? I wouldn’t say such questions are dominating my thoughts. But I am interested. I’d forgotten all about Apolo Anton Ohno, but I was happy to see him pick up a sixth medal. And one of my favorite characters, alpine skier Bode Miller, will be competing, after his epic failure to medal in Turin four years ago. Miller makes people angry, but I like him, mainly because of his unorthodox New Hampshire background. Another skier from New Englander, Hannah Kearney from Vermont, was the first American to medal, in the moguls.
Most of my friends are into the Olympics, despite their total lack of Olympics expertise. “I’m wildly enthusiastic about a number of winter Olympics events as spectator sports,” my friend Geoff wrote. “Ski jumping rules. And bobsledding. And curling. And others.” I visited friends in Melrose, Mass., over the weekend, and when they asked what I wanted to do I said, “We could just watch the Olympics.” We focused on the main events on NBC, but occasionally switched over to MSNBC to watch the Canadian women’s ice hockey team demolish Slovakia.
Casting a pall over the whole event, of course, was the death of 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who crashed on the super-slick Whistler track on Friday. “Why does the track have to be that fast?” a friend asked, while we watched the men compete on Saturday night. The answer: It doesn’t. Even as Olympic officials maintained that the track was safe, they worked to slow it down, moving the start line, reworking the ice surface, and putting up a safety wall where Kumaritashvili’s accident occurred. “In the end, no one admitted a thing,” columnist Dan Wetzel wrote (click here). “They just put up a board, slowed the track down and moved on. It’s the best and only apology Nodar Kumaritashvili’s family is going to get.” The Boston Globe’s Charles P. Pierce suggests that the death was “highly preventable” and asks, “Has it dawned on any of the officials yet that somebody, you know, actually died? This track was dangerous. It was a peril to the health and safety of the athletes expected to perform on it, and it has been ever since it was designed. (How much could it have cost simply to pad those metal uprights?) The reason we know this is because the athletes themselves have been saying it for well over a year. Of course, Rule No. 1 of being an international sports official is Never Listen To The Athletes. Rule No. 2 is Ever!” (Click here to see what else Pierce has to say.) But because blame isn’t in keeping with the spirit of the Olympics, you’re unlikely to hear such scathing commentary on NBC.
My favorite story of the Olympics thus far might be that of young J.R. Celski, who picked up a bronze in short track speedskating just five months after a gruesome accident at the U.S. Trials in which his left thigh was sliced open by a skate blade. The cut was six inches wide and two inches deep, and required 60 stitches. “When I was laying on that ice, I was in defeat at first,” Celski said Sunday. “I thought my whole career was over. But I guess in those moments is where we truly define ourselves.” According to a story on CNN (click here), Celski asked someone to take a photo of his cut, and “while Celski is keen to show it to anyone who will have a look, it is the only time he reflects on the injury. ‘After it happened, I knew I needed to get back on my feet, and the way to do that was to not think about it,’ he said.” It was inspiring to see Celski skate to victory, and hopefully he’ll pick up more medals. Personally I could have done without the footage of him bleeding all over the ice at the U.S. Trials, but the photograph of his gash helped give me a sense of how far he’s come.
BEAT ME AT MY OWN GAME
Every year I try to watch as many Oscar films as I can, and predict who will win. This year the Gazette is sponsoring an Oscar contest in which you, the readers, can try to outguess me. Contest details and ballots are available on the Gazette Web site by clicking here. My picks will be up March 4; the deadline for entering is March 3. The grand prize: two tickets to Bow Tie Cinemas in Schenectady, and a $50 gift certificate to a Schenectady restaurant of your choice.
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