You’ll have to excuse me as I spend this week’s column absolved from commentary on local issues. That’s because my wife has walked in the door, every day after work, and tuned our TV to the most absurd sporting event ever devised.
No, I am not new to the Winter Olympics – I’ve followed speed skaters and Tonya Harding’s hatchet man for decades. But a unique thought crossed my mind the other evening as I sat with my 4-year-old son who watched as a man lay flat on his back, wearing what appeared to be colorful oil, and darted down a frozen water slide.
My son’s reaction, quite naturally, was, “Cool.” As a father whose precious son may one day decide to imitate what he just learned from TV, I am now on a quest to understand exactly which 19th Century narcotics were involved when someone climbed to the top of a mountain, looked down a thousand feet to sheets of ice and pointed evergreen trees and said, “Hey, I’m going to back up as far as I can, launch myself as high as I can, and land on the two sticks attached to my feet.”
Before spending a few minutes making my case against the sanity of the Winter Olympics, let me ensure readers understand my perspective.
I’m a kid from the South, like many of you. At my childhood home in Alabama, we may have had freezing temperatures a few weeks a winter. And when that happened, we brought out the garden hose, covered our second story deck with water, and waited for the creation of a magical hockey rink. One crushed Coke can and a few golf clubs later, and the misfit boys of our neighborhood were body-checking each other right into the glass doors leading to my parents’ bedroom.
Here’s the thing, though: At absolutely no point did any of us ever look off the side of the deck and think it would be a good idea to launch ourselves into the yard, which sat a mere 12 feet below the deck.
And while I could spend volumes trying to explain my consternation at these Games, let’s start with the aforementioned sport, which is called Large Hill Ski Jumping.
Here’s what happens: Men and women, wearing immodestly tight clothing and a helmet (yeah, because that’s going to help), stand on a hill exactly 262 feet from a cliff, push off from a handle bar, reach speeds of about 60 mph on what the fancy folks call the in-run, and deliberately fall off said cliff. Except when they fall, they hold their skis in a Victory formation, stiffen their arms like Superman, and fly through the air toward a landing area that’s basically frozen concrete.
Makes perfect sense.
The first recorded ski jump in competition was made by a guy named Olaf Rye on Nov. 22, 1808. He landed exactly 31 feet from his launch spot, but the history books don’t tell us how much rye whiskey he drank before the jump.
The longest recorded jump was made by Austrian Stefan Kraft on March 18, 2017. He flew an astounding 832 feet on a hill called Vikersundbakken in Norway. Not sure what he was bakken in his brownies, but for us Southerners, he jumped nearly three football fields.
We need to discuss other “sports,” but let me make this closing argument on ski jumping: According to a University of Washington Medical School study, about 12 people for every 100,000 who attempt ski jumps die. I play golf, and I’d venture to say I’ve swung a golf club 100,000 times in my life (feel like I did it in my last two rounds). Not once, ever, have I been close to fatality upon contact with the ball, though I did almost take out two of my friends with a single 5-wood a few years ago.
If the whole death and jumping down a sheet of ice aren’t enough to question this sport, consider a few others currently airing on your NBC affiliate.
My son was captivated by the luge event, mainly because it looked like the water slide we’ve promised him we’ll visit this summer. Actually, I can understand how we got to the luge. A few fellows took their sleds one hazy evening, got tired of shooting straight down a hill, and decided they’d start darting between Christmas trees. Pretty soon, they got off the snow and went straight for the ice and, just like that, another Olympic sport was born.
Here’s what you never worry about when you watch a normal sport like, say, basketball. Not a single basketball player has ever missed a baseline jumper and fallen over dead because of it. But a USA Today headline from earlier this week should say enough: “With sports like luge, skeleton and snowboarding, death never far at the Winter Olympics.”
As the story continued, a Georgian luger named Nodar Kumaritashvili died when he lost control of his sled and crashed into a pole. Apparently, he was traveling at a speed of almost 90 mph when he crashed.
There’s another sport at these Winter Olympics you just read in that headline: Skeleton. Yes, that’s what they call it, and it’s indication enough that maybe we shouldn’t encourage our kids to try it, lest they become one.
I get hockey, where a team of athletes attempts to get some sort of object into another team’s goal. Don’t get me started on figure skating; again, my wife gets it so I sit there quietly and play cards on my phone.
If I were the Winter Olympics Commissioner, I’d allow for three sports. Hockey is fine, even if I’ll never understand the blue line.
Next, we’ll make plenty of room for the cross-country skiers who carry rifles on their backs. At least they’ve got a shooter’s chance of survival.
And we’ll end the games with curling, because what other sport includes a sawed-off spittoon, two brooms and someone screaming at a painted circle of ice?
As it stands now, let’s just hope no one is hurt.