Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Olympic Justice is served.

Michelle Kwan has pulled out of the Olympics. Apparently the injury that prevented her from qualifying legitimately wasn't 100% healed when she used her enormous popularity to claim a spot on the Olympic team. Sure, she claims that she injured it in practice but we all know the truth: she lied to the US Olympic committee and hoped that her groin would be operational in time to compete this week. It wasn't and she had to bail or suffer the humiliation of another Olympic disappointment. Now she can go out with a pity party. Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. Didn't. Now shut up, go home and see if your agent can land you a job covering skaters who actually come through in the clutch.

What is upsetting about Kwan and the Olympic committee's desire to foist the charismatic skater on the viewing audience is that the politics being played will have a negative impact on Emily Hughes who rightfully earned the spot in the Olympics by placing third at the trials. Kwan's exemption bumped Hughes whose sister stunned the world by taking home gold four years ago. Won't Sasha be upset if another perky little Hughes girl steals her thunder yet again?
Technically Hughes should be ready to go, but staying in top physical condition and keeping your psyche honed are two different aspects of competition. Surely Hughes quietly fumed over getting bumped out of the Olympics and with the odds of her getting to compete very slim it's highly likely that she is not in top form. It's hard to maintain that focus and peak physically when you've been slapped with disappointment. Shame on her if she's not ready to step up, but shame on Kwan and the US Olympic committee for playing the popularity game with the selection process.

Look, athletes get hurt all the time. That's part of the game. In most sports you have two choices when you're injured: play hurt and suffer the consequences or bow out to fight another day. Getting to the Olympics is the pinnacle of success in many of these sports. Most people don't care about figure skating, skiing, women's hockey or curling until the Olympics begin. It doesn't matter how good Michelle Kwan has been or who holds the world record in an event. All we see is Olympic gold. Set a world record in winning an Olympic Gold Medal and you'll become a legend forever, do it in some world cup event a year later and you might as well knit an afghan. Look at Mary Lou Retton, she's still popular after all these years and for what? A perfect 10 in Olympic competition. Had she achieved perfection in 1986 instead of 1984 we'd have never heard of her. Anybody Remember Debi Thomas? Maybe that's because she didn't win gold, but she was the first African American woman to win a medal in the winter Olympics. No small feat, but still anonymity has claimed her.

NBC is to blame for this Michelle Kwan nonsense. Experts predict that ratings will fall with Kwan being out of the competition, so it's only reasonable to assume that NBC leaned heavily on the Olympic Committee to ensure Kwan would be competing. The dramatic tale of Kwan getting one last shot at the Olympic glory that has eluded her was a story the network was desperate to capitalize on. If NBC had remained neutral on this subject and honored the spirit of competition, they could have looked for a story elsewhere and possibly invested a little hype into Emily Hughes.

Apolo Anton Ohno failed to reach the finals in his 1500 meter short track race and when he tried to explain his failure he blamed the Chinese Skater he was trying to pass for bumping him. He didn't cry foul, but he wasn't honest either. Ohno screwed up. He was in position to take second place and qualify for the finals but he got greedy, lost his balance and skittered off the track. Nobody bumped him. He choked. Again. He'll probably claim gold in one or two of the other short track events, just as he did last Olympics (by acting), but if he doesn't succeed you can bet he won't take responsibility. So Ohno plays the blame game and Kwan wanted special treatment. Great. Go Latvia!

Say what you will about Bode Miller, but the kid did well in the downhill in spite of the fact that he supposedly stayed out all night partying, slept in late and didn't even try his new skis before the race. How much of that is true will never be known, but he took fifth in the men's downhill which is a great finish. When asked about his run, Bode simply said that he couldn't have done much better and that the other participants were faster. He admitted that he might have made a small mistake or two but even if he had been perfect he wouldn't have won it all. That's called manning up, folks. No excuses for Bode. And before you say he was supposed to win, you're wrong. Bode's not the best downhill racer. He's a carver. Look for him to fare well in the slalom events. And by the way, he's not considered to be the best in the world, only the most exciting. Big difference there.

Isn't it great that the Great One is Canada's problem? What an ego on this guy! Really. Sure, Wayne's not implicated in anything illegal just yet and probably won't be, because the NHL can't afford for Gretzky to become a Pete Rose. His wife is the one who gambles and there's no proof she had knowledge of illegal gambling. That's not the point.

The point is that there is a fire storm brewing over this whole NHL/Soprano family connection, and until the whole story is out Gretzky will be right in the middle of it. Team Canada doesn't need that kind of attention in the Olympics. And wouldn't you know, Wayne's at a press conference yesterday and reporters were asking him about the gambling investigation. Surprise, surprise, surprise. Wayne was smart though, he had a handler play the bad guy and rebuff reporters who wanted to cover the real story. Whoever it was sounded a lot like Dick Cheney. We're not talking about that, argh!

Why is Wayne there? EGO. Wayne needs to be the face of Canadian hockey. The smart thing to do would be to stay at home and let the bad hoo-doo remain stateside with him and his tart--I mean wife. Instead Wayne flew to Turin and made a bee-line for the press. Hello world, look at me! Sometimes it's better for everybody if you take the high road and in this case that meant laying low.

But Wayne doesn't care about Canadian Hockey. If he did he never would have played for the Kings. If that's not enough evidence for you perhaps you can tell me why he's in Phoenix instead of Canada. No? That's because Wayne Gretzky cares about Wayne Gretzky. I don't take issue with that. There's nothing wrong with looking out for number one, but don't pretend you're unselfish. Gretzky's acting like his presence in Turin is a benefit to the team when it's really a benefit to himself. What a jerk...

No comments: