I have spent a good deal of time the past few days watching the Olympic drama unfold before me on television. I have the highest admiration for Olympic atheletes. They are focused, disciplined men and women. They sacrifice much in order to compete for Olympic glory, and I watch them accomplish the incredible with much admiration.
This brings me to one of my favorite events to watch: Snowboarding. I like the head-to-head racing, and I like watching the death defying tricks that they perform. It truly boggles my mind. And as a fan of team USA, I enjoy cheering my team on and see them excel in this sport.
When I saw Lindsey Jacobellis fall yesterday, I gasped. She had a clear three second lead on the next competetor, and she bit the powder. I could not believe it. No one jostled her, pushed her, or hit her. She just...fell. On the replay, my suspicions were confirmed: in her exuberance, she had tried a slightly fancy move and it cost her a gold medal. I was stunned.
At first, I must admit, I was dissappointed at this. It is the grown-up in me, I must confess. Why couldn't she just "act right" and take the easy win for team USA? Why did she have to hot dog? I even talked about it with my wife and told her what a tragedy it was. In truth, I couldn't get it off of my mind, which is fairly ridiculous. I kept turning the entire situation over and over in my mind, and since I spent so much time analysing it, I thought I'd share it here with you.
First of all, this is snowboarding. In reality, this is a Gen X game gone "legit". It is a sport born from people who couldn't find a place to skateboard in the winter time. The men wear "soul patches" and are prone to say things like "gnarly". If the girls could grow goofy goatees, they probably would. They are much like the skateboarding kids who jump off of park benches and roll down the side walk and drive old folks crazy. They do this to have fun, and I believe that Lindsey was having fun on that downhill.
Secondly, I heard something in my voice when I was talking to my wife about it that scared me. It was that same voice that I used to hear as a kid at the baseball field. You know it. It is the voice of that parent who yells at their kid for striking out, or missing the ground ball, or making the bad throw. It is the voice of the obsessive parent who wants their kid to be a "winner", whether the kid likes it or not. I do not wish to be that guy. Lindsey is no kid, but this is her sport and her life. It was her sweat and blood and early morning work-outs that got her there. It was the thrill of doing tricks and speeding downhill that sustained her through the drudgery of practice after practice.
Thirdly, I realized that this Gen X sport "gone legit" is in the Olympics for more reasons than just "sport". It draws a younger audience. Sorry mom and dad, this ain't just about the sports. It is about money. The style Lindsey displayed is what made the sport what it is today. The Olympic committee, the USA, and everybody else knows this. Most of the people complaining have never strapped a snowboard on their feet, or even socialize with anyone near Lindsey's age. All they understand is "win". Or as Rick Morrissey, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune put it, "It probably would be a good thing if somebody explained to the snowboarders that once they decided to sit at the adults' table, they made the tacit agreement to play to win." (You can read the entire article here) They made an agreement with whom? Rick Morrissey? The American people? They agreed to compromise the very thing that makes their sport fun in order to play with "the big boys"? Does Rick Morrissy really think that Lindsey was tryling to lose? Give me a break. If you don't like slam dunks and three point shots, don't watch basketball. If you don't like goofy end zone dances, don't watch football. And if you don't like a little celebratory move in the downhill, don't watch snowboarding. It's part of the flavor of the sport. They don't play by your uptightness, and there are other things besides winning.
In my opinion, Lindsey was not disrespecting those against whom she was competing. She was jumping for joy, albeit prematurely. That is, if you consider a silver medal not worth jumping for joy about. Lindsey went down in a blaze of glory, but a blaze of glory it was. She represented her sport and her country honorably, in my opinion. I, for one, do not balk at silver medals or at people having fun in their sport.
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