Thursday, January 12, 2006

Around the Office - Schussing through the workday

As happens every four years, sports which get little play in the off years come to the front of office chat. Skiing? We usually discuss footbal playoffs this time of year when we discuss sports. Figure Skating? Not even up for discussion any time of year.

Except for the Olympics, those couple of weeks when everyone seems to care about things they have not cared about since the last winter Olympics. It becomes an event of role-models and bad-kids. And somewhere in this, something approaching sport actually get played out. But above all the Olympics are a morality play.

Back in the day it was Us-vs-Them with the Eastern Bloc sports machine cast as the mountain which must be conquered. It was a moral imperative to plant the stars and stripes on the very highest peaks of Olympus. It was easy, and we as often as not did not concern ourselves with the behavior or "our" athletes and champions. They were ours and we embraced them with patriotic fervor, ignoring the bong in the backpack and the temper behind the tutu.

Now the bloc is gone and we've entered a period of where the morality plays are writ in terms of a "clean living index" and individuals rather than states are the media created heroes and villans and objects of shame.

Take the case of Bode Miller. Top-notch skier in all alpine disciplines. No excess facial hair, no inappropriate tattoes or piercings. A politely spoken young man. He has however admitted to taking part in a competition or two after a night of serious drinking...hungover...still intoxicated. An honest young man. Work hard, Play Hard, it is easily understandable.

Never mind that he achieved world champion status in overall alpine as well as sveral of the individual events during the last four years. Never mind the fact that he is in superb physical and mental condition. He has been commanded by the keepers of the moral flame to apologize for the comments he made, when these comments were only about himself. They slandered no-one that I can imagine. But this is the price of participation in the quadrennial morality play on snow.

Network news trumpets the story with the full weight of moral indignation including clips of teenage skiers saying that said Mr. Miller is a poor example. I quietly beg to differ. He has slandered no one and hurt no one and is accountable only to himself. He earned the ticket to Torino with hard work and gutsy skiing year in and year out and is at the top of his game.

Drinkers will continue to drink and kill themselves skiing into trees whether or no Mr Miller. Personal responsibility.

Contrast that with the other interesting case of Michelle Kwan who has not skated in a serious competition all year and is asking for a bye onto the U.S. Olympic team on the basis of her past performance as world champion. She's had two Olympiads and has proven herself up to the challenge in neither despite winning world championships in the same years. She was fourth last year at the world championships. She is just coming off a muscle pull that has not allowed her to practice her jumps and Torino is just about a month away.

But figure skating (women's, pairs, and dance) has become a showcase of damsels in distress and villanous vixens rather then athletics as the driving force. So a sub-par damsel can easily be embraced by the writers of this morality play and allowed on the stage one more time. A speed skater would not be given a similar bye if unable to ski in team try-outs. Neither would Bode Miller be on the alpine team if he were a sub-par has-been out-of-condition drunkard.

It is nice stage craft. It is not sport.


At 8:39 PM, Blogger M. G. Tarquini said... blogged.


Feel free to comment on mine any time. You know...get to know people.

At 2:34 PM, Blogger Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Lisa, GREAT post.

I agree about Miller. That totally stinks.

But it also stinks for Michelle Kwan.

Not only is she one of the BEST figure skaters in the last decade, she's one of the best EVER - she's got the grace of Hamill, the skills of Katarina Witt, and the versatility of Yamaguchi.

But it's past her prime. So why is she still here?

I've been a fan of her since 1998 when she stumbled and got 2nd at the Olympics. Right after an interview, she said into the camera, "I want to say hi to my family. I'm sorry, hope you still love me."

She was a kid then and probably just speaking what popped into her head, but that really hit me - wow, this gal is under a lot of pressure and she's dealing with all this as a kid as best as she can.

And not just her, but every prodigy kid athlete out there.

We set these kids up on pedastals and when they don't perform to our expectations, we knock 'em down like a fallen hero.

Is that fair? To Miller? To Kwan?

Is it really Kwan asking for a bye, or is it after 50 meetings with her dad, her brother, her agents, her managers, her endorsements, her publicists, and her mother, that Kwan requested a bye?

When a figure skater is past her prime, what motivation does she have to keep going even after she's got all the medals and the money she needs?

The gold.

For a gal to not have won the gold, she's got a pretty lucrative endorsement package with Coca-Cola & Disney already set up, much better than most other skaters out there (not including movie deals, video games, foreign ads, etc). And she doesnt' have a gold!

Kwan's endorsements, Kwan's family, and Kwan's fans, especially those chinese americans (no offense intended), and probably Kwan's own pride won't let her stop trying until she gets that gold eventhough it ain't smart - quit while you're ahead, there's a good chance, if history likes to repeat, that she'll bring home another bronze, or worse, don't even place.

Besides Amy Chow (1st chinese american to win a gold, but it was not an individual gold, it was a team gold with the US women's gymnastics team), Kwan is the closest to a gold for chinese-americans. Ask any minority - it's a big deal whether we admit to it being a big deal or not.

I say Miller and Kwan are in the same boat. Sports, like any other sports venue, are driven by ticket sales, endorsements, and either fanatical parents or crazed fans. It's no longer about the sport, no longer about the kid with true talent, no longer about going to an event as a family buying popcorn and peanuts enjoying the game and having a few laughs.

It stinks that Miller isn't a pretty little skater in a tutu with loads of endorsements to back him up, and it stinks that Kwan isn't a kickass skier who can quit while she's ahead.

And the media spinning the whole morality wheel on top of it all? It's out of control.


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