We All Fall Down


I’ve been playing in an ongoing email Scrabble tournament for more than a decade now.  My opponents are from Great Britain, Canada, South Africa, Israel, Australia, multiple nations in Europe and Asia, as well as from here in the United States.  We start new games every two weeks.

Sometimes I draw just the right tiles and pull off some nice wins.  Other times, not so much.  This week, for example, I was rolling right along, maintaining a nice vowel/consonant balance in my rack, making some decent plays.  Nothing spectacular, mind you, but I was staying ahead of my opponent by a healthy margin.  I was confident of a win.  Then, toward the end of the game, my opponent pulled off a big play and I found myself left with nothing but junk on my rack and a tight board.  And so, after doing great all game long, I choked.  Lost the game, and not by a few points either.  Grabbed defeat from the jaws of victory.  Or, as I explained it to my wife, “I pulled a Shaun White.”

Watching the Olympics has been just plain painful.  Sure, there have been some wonderful moments, such as the gold medal feats of Katy Farrington and Sage Kotsenburg.  By and large, however, the performance of the U.S. Olympic Team has been rather embarrassing.

Here I was prepared to cheer loud and long when the Americans take the podium to win one gold medal after another.  It’s nice to know that we did win a few.  But so far, there haven’t been many.  I keep wincing as I see our people stumble and fall on the snow and ice.

To be fair, it’s not only the Americans who are playing the fall-down guys and gals.  I just finished watching Swedish snowboarder Henrik Harlaut fall on his head in the slopestyle.  And this was after he lost both his skis and his pants during qualifying rounds.  There was Li Nina of China, who fell on her head in aerials skiing. Ditto for Lydia Lassila of Australia.  There were all the collisions during the speed skating events.  Then there were the eighteen competitors in the women’s Super G who failed to complete the course.  Count ‘em, eighteen

American snowboarders Nick Goepper and Bobby Brown both crashed in first round qualifying, improving in the finals.  And now here goes American skater Jeremy Abbott sprawling and crashing into the wall on the landing of his quad toe jump.  He ought to be awarded the gold medal for courage after he got up and successfully performed the rest of the jumps in his short program.

Here goes Gus Kenworthy, falling on the last jump of his slopestyle run.  And Emily Cook falling on her landing in aerials. 

I hear my conscience saying:  “You think these tricks are easy?  You try it!”  And some say I have no grounds to complain, with the United States having scored 15 Olympic medals at Sochi so far, tied with the Netherlands for second place and only one medal behind the leader, host nation Russia.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate that these are some of the most difficult athletic feats known to man.  It’s just that these are supposed to be the finest athletes in the world, the best of the best.  So you can understand why I didn’t expect the Olympic Games held in the winter to have the theme of “fall.”

And of course I expect my American team to show up the rest of the world.  So I am more than a little disappointed when the scoreboard keeps telling me that the United States came in eighth, fourteenth or twenty-first.  Particularly when we so often start off strong, then suffer a fall or run out of steam right at the end.

I wonder if Shaun White plays Scrabble.


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