Did you know that Shaun White prefers to not waste his endorsement money on “elephants that can speak sign language?” Were you aware that American speed skater Chad Hendrick has been called the “Paris Hilton of speed skating” by European journalists? Did you just imagine a speed skater toting a Chihuahua around on the ice?
While these may be mildly amusing (and slightly disturbing) pieces of information about our home grown American athletes ” there is something missing in all of these facts. I’ve been extensively watching the Winter Olympics in Torino as “research” (read: “excuse to order pizza and procrastinate homework”) but I’ve been left feeling unsatisfied (no, not from the pepperoni and sausage). Somewhere between listening to NBC’s announcers debate the merits of using untested, factory fresh skis and Bob Costas gushing about Michelle Kwan, it hit me: this isn’t making me proud to be an American.
But what is to blame for these Olympics failing to inspire patriotism in me? Why am I not feeling the desire to slap an American flag on my bumper? Where is my, “Do you believe in miracles?!?” moment? I don’t want to hear about the 1980 U.S. Hockey team defeating the Soviet Union (what truly began the collapse of the Soviet Union). I want a defining event for these Olympics, for my generation.
Maybe what’s missing is the center of the medals (literally). Is there a sadder development in these winter Olympics than the “close up of athlete looking through the hole in the middle of his medal” replacing the typical, “wide shot of the athlete standing on the podium with his hand over his heart as the national anthem is sung?” Was there something wrong with having the traditional (complete) circle as a medal?
I watch the Olympics for the quick fix of patriotism and national pride that can only come from watching an elite member of your country ” one who sacrificed their entire childhood in order to be able to ski down a hill .001 seconds faster than anyone else in the world ” weep at the performance of their national anthem.
Were the holes in the medals a budget decision? Did a member of the IOC decide it was necessary to save money on the medals in order to more effectively test for Rogaine?
Which, if you failed to grasp my last reference, is what U.S. Olympian Zach Lund was suspended for taking. The skeleton slider (you know, where they go head first down a narrow slide of ice at speeds exceeding 80 mph) was suspended for one year for taking a hair restoration drug, finasteride, that can be used to mask steroids. The Court of Arbitration for Sport believes he did not cheat by taking steroids (what would be the point of steroids? He’s laying face first on a sled silently praying his next turn isn’t his last), but they have still banned him for a year because of the violation. Worse yet, skeleton racers are only seen once every 4 years with helmets on, depriving us of the opportunity to see his gorgeous locks.
But it’s not just the fact that our athletes are being tested for illegal substances more than Robert Downey Jr. by his probation officer. The American athletes actually being allowed to compete are failing to live up to the hype.
Granted, this is all media generated, but Apolo Anton “Oh-no!” didn’t even make the 1500m short track finals after he grazed China’s Li Ye’s skate and swung wide on the turn. Apolo has been criticized for trying to make a pass with less than two laps to go, when it was just a qualifier for the finals and all he needed was 2nd place to advance. However, I applaud Apolo’s gutsy move. No self-respecting American should ever lose to a communist; regardless of the race or circumstances. Obviously, Apolo was trying to conjure up memories of the old capitalism vs. communism rivalry (see 1980 example above). Everyone knows those poor communist children are raised in slave like camps where they are ruthlessly trained to be the best; Ohno was really just taking one for the kids. Either that, or he lost his composure in his biggest race in 4 years, you know, one or the other.
American Michelle Kwan’s groin injury forced her to bow out of what would have been her final Olympics, leaving her with only a silver and bronze medal to console her after never attaining that elusive gold medal. Bode Miller has either been too slow or been disqualified from all of his events so far; a fact that he will no doubt point out to his bartender. (Frankly, Miller should embrace his “party boy/drunk/rebel” label and show up completely wasted for his events. I guarantee that his stumbling down the mountain would generate higher ratings than him simply losing another race.)
As you can see, these athletes are not exactly representing the USA in the best light. That is, except for one notable exception: Shaun White.
Perhaps it is a little hasty to be pinning the hopes of the entire nation on a 19-year-old, but this teenager has been competing as a professional since he was 13. As I watched the “Flying Tomato” soar through the air to win the half-pipe gold, I got a taste of what these Winter Olympics should feel like. Maybe it was the American flag bandana he was using to cover his face, or maybe it was just the fact that White was genuinely excited to be in the Olympics. Either way I took pride in the fact that he was ours, and that his combination of personality and talent could only be found here in the good ole’ US of A.
Bradford Applin is a sophomore aerospace engineer. He absolutely loves China and Russia, and if you believe that, he’s got an elephant that speaks sign language to sell you. He can be reached for feedback at email@example.com