Saturday, February 25

Professionals in the Olympics

I've been opposed to the recent trend toward more and more professional athletes in the Olympics. I suppose partly it's because my sports - nordic skiing and biathlon - aren't exactly ones you'll see millionaire professionals in North America. But more importantly, I believe the Summer Games' basketball so-called "Dream Team" was a cynical brazen ploy to win at all costs - sportsmanship and fair play be damned. Part of what makes the Olympic Games so exciting is that the competitors are more human, not some millionaire prima-donna pro sorts star. Plus, the inclusion of professional athletes in the Olympics heavily favors large, wealthy nations who have large pro sports leagues. It's a structure that shuts out talented athletes from nations who are too small or too poor to be able to support full-time professional athletes.

However. I've caught several of this year's Olympic hockey games and have been impressed. I'm not a hockey fan. I've been to exactly one hockey game ever (a minor league Portland Winterhawks game). But as I watched the Olympic hockey tournament, I wonder if professionals in the Olympics isn't entirely a bad thing. Maybe it's because the games I've seen have all been exciting, well-played and competitive - nothing like the Summer Games professional team blowouts. The difference, I think, is that there are so many strong hockey players and leagues in so many nations. True, it still favors large wealthy nations, but there are so many teams in the tournament that have access to so many professional players that it was at least a real competition between many good teams instead of one or two teams full of professional ringers against a field of amateurs.

Am I convinced that professional athletes belong in the Olympics? Definitely not. But after watching this year's tournament, I'm willing to concede there might be room for them among the amateurs.

More Strip Jeopardy

Went to No Fish Go Fish last night with A and Swankette. Ended up staying for Strip Jeopardy - why not? We had a nice comfy table, tasty drinks, and didn't feel like braving the cold outside to head home. Sorry, TRP. I had a Froo Froo drink in your honor.

My how things have changed since the last time. Certainly more skin showing since last year. Far more.

Style points for the one female contestant for the creative use of a couple of strategically-placed Band-Aid 'X'es. But Mr. Bond-Wannabe in the matador hat, even though we were willing to give you style points for the shoulder holster and sock garters early on ... next time take off the bow tie instead of your skivvies. Please.

Wednesday, February 22

Destroy the world, drive a SUV!

Does anyone else think this ad doesn't say, "Look at me! I'm driving my SUV and destroying this lovely countryside!"

Tuesday, February 14

Reality check

Bravo to Joey Cheek. Not for winning an Olympic gold medal, but for what he did at the press conference after winning.

I know you want to do sweet Hallmark stories about chocolates and butterflies and all that, but I've had a pretty unique experience, this is a pretty unique opportunity and I'm going to take advantage of it while I can.

I heard that this morning while I was still in bed trying to wake up. It woke me up. His grim, matter-of-fact tone was not at all what one would expect for a post-medal press conference.

For me, the Olympics have been the greatest blessing. If I retired yesterday, I have gotten everything in the world from speedskating and competing in the Olympics. And the best way to say thanks that I can think of is to try and help somebody else.

I have always felt if I ever do something big like this I want to be able to give something back. I love what I do; it's great fun, but honestly, it's a pretty ridiculous thing, I skate around in tights. If you keep it in perspective, I've trained my whole life for this but it's not that big a deal.

But because I skated well I have a few seconds of microphone time. And I know how news cycles work. Tomorrow there will be another gold medalist. So I can either gush how wonderful I feel or use it for something.

So I am donating the entire sum the USOC gives me [$25,000] to an organization, 'Right to Play,' that [Lillehammer speed skating medalist] Johan Olav Koss either started or gave to in 1994. It helps refugees in Chad, where there are over 60,000 persons displaced from their homes. I am going to be asking all of the Olympic sponsors if they will match my donation.

In Sudan, there have been tens of thousands of people killed. My government has labeled it genocide. Hopefully, if we can stabilize the region, with U.N. or U.S. pressure, we can go in and start programs for refugees there.

Johan has lived his life in a manner I hope to live my life. I can only hope to fit in his large shoes.

A couple of days before the race, he had coffee with Johan Olav Koss. Koss' response says a lot, too:
He was talking that he wanted to do something big," Koss said. "I was so humbled to meet such a person. The most important race of his life is coming up in a couple days, and he's talking about what he can do to give back.

Here's to you, Joey. Thank you for stepping up and doing the right thing. Thank you for reminding us that "winning" and "losing" are so abstract as to be meaningless in the face of war, genocide, starvation, and suffering. I'm not saying don't enjoy the competition or cheer for your favorite athletes, just remember that winning is not everything. Remember that we can't keep living in our ridiculously-affluent lotus-land and ignore the world around us. Enjoy the games, but not to the exclusion of doing something to make the world a better place.

Saturday, February 11

It's Olympic time!

Some of you may already know that I was a die-hard nordic skiier and biathlete when in college. I was never quite good enough to compete on the international level, but that doesn't stop me from being glued to the TV every four years for the Winter Olympics.

As usual, the TV coverage for the nordic - and especially the biathlon - events is relegated to the wee hours of the morning on cable. So once again, I have to live with whatever they end up posting on the web. But oh, how I wish I could have seen this morning's 20k men's biathlon.

Not that it comes as any big surprise, but the US is not generally viewed as a nordic powerhouse. Sure, we had Bill Koch's silver in 1976, but in general US nordic skiiers never get the respect they deserve. I think that might start to change this year. If this morning's event is any indication, it's going to be a very exciting month:

Alaskan Jay Hakkinen took 10th in a time of 56:10.9, but the best finish ever by a U.S. athlete could have been much, much better. Each miss results in a one-minute penalty and he missed three of 20 shots, including a split bullet that failed to knock down the target.

Had it fallen, he would have won the bronze medal instead of Hanevold.

A split bullet away from a medal? Oh. My. An infinitesimal difference and that target would have dropped and we'd have our first-ever biathlon medal.

Hakkinen posted the second-fastest ski time behind Bjoerndalen, who missed two of 20 shots, one too many to beat Greis, who missed just once.

Did I read that right? And this is not Hakkinen's best event - Tuesday's 10k sprint.

Those Norwegians and Germans better watch that rear-view, them yankees are comin'!

Go Jay go!!!