Winning is Only the Beginning

Olympians and politicians have a lot in common.  They are heroes to some, reviled by others.  They have their sex and doping scandals.  They have their spectacular wins and their crushing defeats.  They toil in obscurity for years and make a lot of money when they finally succeed.

But there is one major difference between the two.  When an Olympian stands on the podium and sings the national anthem while a gold medal is hung around her neck, she’s done.  Sure, she may go for gold in another event or try for a repeat four years down the road.  But she doesn’t have to.  She can go home and be feted, interviewed and offered product endorsement deals.  Whatever she does after that, she has made it into the history books, there to stay forevermore.

By contrast, when a presidential candidate wins the election, he can’t go home and bask in the glory of his medal.  He has to run the country for four years.

So I think it’s time for the haters, the conspiracy theorists who insist that the president of the United States isn’t really an American and doesn’t love his country, those who oppose health care reform and who believe that the leader of the free world is allowing immigrants to take over his own nation, the ones with the Impeach Obama bumper stickers on their pickup trucks, to climb down off their high horses and soap boxes and start making a difference.

Yesterday, my young nephew, who is a hard-working manual laborer in the construction industry, pointed out that the older and fatter members of his family couldn’t do his job for an hour.  And he’s right; we couldn’t.  But we quickly retorted that he wouldn’t last an hour doing the technical and managerial tasks that we old, fat people do all day.

I venture to guess that the naysayers who have no respect for the office of the presidency couldn’t do Barack Obama’s job for a day.

So if you don’t appreciate what our president is doing, if you’re a shrieking Republican or a disappointed Democrat, now is the time to do something about it.  Our commander in chief is rapidly coming to the end of his term and will have to be replaced by the people.  The conventions and primaries will be here before you know it.

And so I say to you who spew invective on the AM radio talk shows and slap incendiary bumper stickers on your SUVs, go find us someone better.  Find a Republican or a Democrat who can not only win the election, but will build upon the accomplishments of his predecessor and exceed them.  If you don’t like what’s gone on in Washington for the past eight years, get up off your bohonkus and find someone worthy of the office of the presidency, someone who will set this great nation back on the right path, someone who believes in God and takes His messages to heart, someone who will care about his people enough to serve as a role model, someone who will satisfy you enough to shut up and let the rest of us have some peace for once.

Because on the day that your victorious candidate stands up to give his or her acceptance speech in November of next year, there won’t be any medals hung around his or her neck.  Yes, the national anthem will be sung, but at the end of it all, the winner can’t go home and accept product endorsements.

For after the final strains of “Hail to Chief” fade off into history, the president still has to run the country for four years.

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 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.