Sports In Briefs

Sports rants from an industry exec who maintains the passion of a fan

Posts Tagged ‘Nodar Kumaritashvili

The Winter Olympics, And Why I Hate Everyone Now

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The flame was lit in Vancouver... eventually

The Winter Olympics are under way. I know, I know, you may not have known had it not been for all the Olympic-themed commercials hitting the airwaves. And maybe missing the beginning of the games wasn’t a bad thing for you; after all, the games were awarded to Vancouver in 2003, yet in the ensuing six and a half years, the organizing committee couldn’t figure out how to make all four trap doors work so they could light things on fire.

One of the most common phrases these next two weeks is going to be “Olympic spirit.” Friends and foes will live together in the Olympic Village and compete as equals in Olympic events. Fans from different worlds will sit side-by-side in the stands and cheer their heroes to gold.

The Olympics, they say, bring us all together.

I heartily disagree. When the Olympics come around, I can’t help but dislike everyone else in the world equally.

Yep. There, I said it.

I live in the United States and I want to see our athletes win everything, whether that’s reasonable or not. I am not going to be consoled by the thought that the British athlete who won is a friend of ours, or that the gold medal triumph of some skier from Uzbekistan is a great story.

When another anthem plays, it means we lost.

In everyday life, friends are friends, foes are foes, and the Swiss are neither. But in an event invites the entire world to compete, it just stands to reason that the entire world is now a foe.

I’m not being childish about it, I’m just rooting for the Americans. I will cheer heartily for our athletes and I will celebrate our victories. I believe the Olympic ideal is wonderful, with events such as these in which everyone can compete and find glory.

I’ll just save my cheering for American glory. The rest will get a nod of acknowledgment… maybe.

One thing I don’t quite understand about the Olympics is timing. We all concede that part of the reasoning for the Olympics is for the participating countries to set aside their differences, gather together in the spirit of competition, and generally all feel warm and fuzzy together.

If that’s the case, why not schedule the Summer Olympics to take place this time of year, and the Winter Olympics when the Summer Games are usually held? If we’re looking for the games to make us feel better just by turning on the TV, seeing the sunshine and 85-degree weather of the Summer Olympics would do me just fine. And when we’re all sweating from near-100% humidity in July, wouldn’t a glimpse of a skier throwing some powder give us the right kind of chills?

It’s not like summer in February and winter in July is a crazy notion – after all, that’s what the entire southern hemisphere experiences. And since 90% of the world’s population lives in the northern hemisphere, the change would serve the vast majority of the world’s people.

Hey, at a time when it seems Vancouver is the only place north of the Rio Grande River that is struggling to accumulate snow, it’s just a suggestion.

The next two weeks will be filled not only with the events we know – hockey, figure skating, skiing – but also some sports that I struggle to wrap my brain around. The first one of those is the biathlon, which started awarding medals today.

What exactly is the purpose of the biathlon? I know, when you boil it all down, there really isn’t much logic to most sports. But the biathlon pairs two seemingly unrelated activities in cross country skiing and shooting stuff. Participants ski for a while, stop and shoot at targets, ski more, shoot more, etc.

I get it, it’s difficult to ski your hardest, settle your body, breathe easy, and shoot a rifle at a target. And I don’t begrudge those that train for years to become the best in the world at their chosen event.

But there are lots of activities that are difficult when paired together. Juggling while riding a unicycle is not particularly easy, but I have yet to see the IOC hand out medals to a Ringling Brothers clown. If we’re looking to combine the practical with the dangerous, why not speed skating and bear wrestling comes to mind. What is the summer equivalent, the 5,000 meter/blindfolded knife-throwing relay?

Flowers and a note mark the site of Kumaritashvili's death

On a more somber note, we are all well aware of the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili on Friday.

We are bound to hear debate about access to the track for practice runs. Is the world’s fastest track too fast?

I know nothing about the luge, except that it looks like bobsledding without the bobsled. My questions, therefore, are less technical and more practical.

My first thought is, why is it necessary for there to be support posts so close to a straightaway, especially coming out of a fast corner? Whatever they’re supporting, can’t it be pushed back, even if just ten feet? Some sort of buffer zone between the track and any obstructions simply seems like common sense to me.

If the support posts absolutely have to be there, why leave them naked and exposed? Those posts should be padded. I just can’t think of any practical reason why they were not protected. Maybe the padding wouldn’t do much for a luger flying out of control at more than 85 mph. But if they do enough to stave off that athlete’s death, isn’t that enough?

I’m no sports architect, and I have never been to a luge track. I have no idea if these design elements are the norm or if they’re unusual. I’m sure organizers have very valid answers to all of these questions, but in light of this tragedy, how truly valid are those answers?

Responsible parties have taken some steps in the last 24 hours. The posts are now being padded. The pads look like they were borrowed from a sixth-grade gymnastics class, but at least it’s something.

A wooden barrier has been erected to hopefully contain any athlete who flies off the track in a similar manner. The starting points for the luge have also been adjusted, which should help cut down speeds at the bottom of the track.

Kumaritashvili was remembered at the opening ceremonies, where flags were lowered to half-staff and a moment of silence was held. The small Georgian delegation, every member adorned in a black armband, received a sustained applause as well.

I would imagine the Georgians will become the sympathetic favorites for the remainder of the Winter Olympics, receiving polite applause from the international fans. Should a Georgian win a medal, it will make a heartwarming story.

I might even applaud during the Georgian national anthem.

Then again, maybe just a nod.


Written by sportsinbriefs

February 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm