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.


Olympic Pageantry and Palaver


It could be ten o’clock in the morning, or maybe 2:30 in the afternoon.  Or even the middle of the night.  I’m sitting here on the couch, glued to the Olympics on TV.  Swelling with pride and wiping a tear from my eye when Sage Kotsenburg wins gold and places his hand over his heart as The Star-Spangled Banner plays and the Olympic torch burns brightly in the background.  Aching for Bode Miller when his high-speed flight down the Russian Trampoline isn’t enough for a medal.  Marveling at the moguls performances of Canada’s Dufour-Lapointe sisters.  Cheering on Jamie Anderson.  Watching in horror as Sarka Pancochova of the Czech Republic falls on her head, cracks her helmet and goes tumbling down the hill.

For me, it’s a little bit of déjà-vu, and not a welcome reprise either, this personal repeat performance of the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010.  I was out of work then, too, and got to stay up until three in the morning to see all the interviews and analysis and post-mortems following the last competition of the day.

The Opening Ceremonies, that I so looked forward to, I found to be rather a disappointment in Sochi.  At bottom, I suppose every host country’s goal in presenting the Opening Ceremony is the same:  To present the nation in the best light possible.  A little history, a little culture, a little razzamatazz, nothing too controversial.  Throw in a few famous writers and musicians from days gone by, add a cute kid, shake well before serving.  Pretty formulaic.

The opening at Sochi reminded me very much of its counterpart at the 2012 London Summer Olympics.  Acrobatic Lyubov, reciting a Cyrillic abecedaric Who’s Who of Russia and soaring aloft with her red balloon, seemed entirely too similar to the London dream sequence wherein children from the Great Ormond Street Hospital conjured up visions of Mary Poppins and Peter Pan.  Both London and Sochi depicted brief images of an agrarian age followed by the Industrial Revolution and devastating wars.  Same old, same old.

As the NBC announcer pointed out, the less savory aspects of Russian history were glossed over or missing entirely.  No references to Lenin, Stalin, Five-Year Plans, the KGB, religious repression, heavy-handed Communist ideology or even Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika.  Sputnik and Soyuz, yes.  Nuclear arms race, no.

But then again, what do you expect?  Best face forward is the rule, and hey, I certainly didn’t see the opening ceremonies of the Salt Lake City or Atlanta Games refer to drugs, crime, homelessness or unemployment.  So, sure, I found the Sochi references to weddings, kids and “hipsters” to be rather saccharinely cloying (as if hippie lifestyles were either common or tolerated in twentieth century Russia).

In the end, however, no matter what the host nation, it’s all just pageantry and pre-macerated pap intended for public consumption with a topping of hearts and flowers, tra-la.

As for myself, for the next couple of weeks I’ll have one eye on the amazing athletic feats taking place half a world away, even while the rest of the couch is covered with résumés and paper clips and envelopes, as I assemble job applications during the commercials.

But I still think those white-clad sign bearers that led forth each delegation during the Parade of Nations were just weird.

Go Team USA!


Olympic Anticipation


We’ve been spending the evening watching the Dew Tour (Ion Mountain Championships) on DVR.  Freestyle skiing and slopestyle snowboarding from Breckenridge, Colorado.

This is the first qualifying event for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, a little over six weeks away.  You could say that we’re getting psyched.

We are not a sports family.  That’s putting it mildly.  None of us have an iota of interest in watching televised sports.  In the current vernacular, you could say I’ve “lost my man card” in that I don’t care a whit about football and won’t even watch the Super Bowl.  Ditto for the World Series.  I simply don’t care who’s playing, much less who wins or loses.

To me, it’s just a bunch of sweaty guys running around a field in goofy-looking uniforms.  I have better things to do.

But all that changes every other year when the Olympic Games approach.  Suddenly, my wife and I are glued to the TV, checking out the broadcast schedules and recording as much as we can fit on the DVR.

I don’t think I could come up with the name of a single person playing in any professional sport today.  But I know that Shaun White opted out of the slopestyle at Breckenridge due to an aggravation of an old injury, not because of the fall he sustained in the halfpipe.

I know.  This makes no sense at all.  It’s totally ridiculous.  And I have to laugh at myself, because it’s so unlike me.

And yet, I find myself looking forward to the slalom, the downhill, the luge, the graceful figure skaters performing their triple axels, salchows and lutzes.  The spectacular falls and crashes as well as the breathtaking successes.  The interviews, the coaches, the platforms and medals, the strange-sounding national anthems from around the world.

I think back to the opening ceremonies of last year’s Summer Olympics in London, and remember how I stared open-mouthed and wiped a tear from my eye.  The whole historical sequence of British life from agrarian days through the Industrial Revolution to the modern service economy.  The children from Great Ormond Street Hospital jumping on the beds before drifting off to sleep and having Mary Poppins and Captain Hook dance in their dreams.  The Mister Beans guy playing the same note over and over in the Chariots of Fire number.

It still gives me chills.

So what will the opening ceremonies look like in Sochi?  I can barely begin to speculate.  Will the classic works of Tolstoy, Pasternak, Dostoevsky and Turgenev be represented?  Will Rachmaninoff, Rimsky-Korsakov and Mussorgsky show up in the musical numbers?  And how will Russia’s long, colorful history be portrayed?

I can’t wait to find out.

Only 52 more days to go.

Not that I’m counting or anything.