Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

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next week's column: The Olympics: Faster, Stronger, Scarier


What, the winter Olympics, again? Didn’t we do that just a few years ago?

Simply speaking, Olympic Games are the stuff we did as kids, only taken to insane levels.

Never mind the opening ceremonies, which have gotten more and more surreal over the years. They’re started to look like something put together by the love child of Salvador Dali and Hunter S. Thompson:

“Don’t we think we’ve overdone it enough?”

“No, we can’t stop here. This is bat country.”

Which makes every bit as much sense as somebody in a 60’s psychedelic costume cartwheeling by wire over paper Mache mountains, while all the athletes stare open mouthed, thinking, “Um, we’re not supposed to do drugs – why do they get to?”

Why is there always opera in every opening ceremony? Is this an opera crowd? It’s a sporting event. Can you image if Luciano Pavarotti sung La boheme to open the Indianapolis 500? He’d have ended up a smear on the Brickyard.

(I suppose this is a good time for me to admit that I love the music John Williams wrote for the Olympics, but at least that you could exercise to – the only fitness most people get from opera is running from it.)

The athletes, smart but single minded, must be bewildered by the whole thing. You don’t get to the Olympics unless you live and breathe whatever form of sliding, jumping, or skating that you’ve learned to do very, very well. It’s like a politician who doesn’t know much about the world at large, but gets really skilled at raising and spending money.

Then the Games begin, and maybe that word is where the secret of the Olympics lie: Games. As I said, most are no different from what we did as kids, just supercharged.

The luge, the skeleton? It’s sledding, man. Sledding – at 90 mph. When you were a kid and got tired of that little hill behind your house, didn’t you haul your sled to the big hill all the kids used in town? Then you got better at that, and started building jumps, or racing your friends. Maybe a few of us latched on to moving cars, where we could divide our fates between carbon monoxide emissions and the possibility that a sudden stop would leave our scalps on the muffler.

But it’s still sledding.

Even I can sled. Not at 90 mph, mind you; in fact, I stopped several years ago after bouncing my head off the seawall at Bixler Lake. Granted that my sled wasn’t supposed to get that far – I came to a sprawling stop on the creaking ice of the lake – but something tells me my speed was approaching something closer to a drunk on a moped.

Skiing I don’t do, because I learned a very important lesson as a child: I have no balance. You can lay on a sled, after all, but skiing only works if you stay on your feet.

Once, down at Chain O’ Lakes State Park, I saw a guy wipe out spectacularly while skiing. Those of you familiar with the park are laughing, because Northern Indiana has nothing close to a mountain – the guy was cross country skiing, and he’d come upon a slight dip that took him down maybe twenty feet on a gentle slide.

Yet it looked like that man on the Wild World of Sports. In the opening of that show, every week, the narrator would entail that the WWoS was about to present “The thrill of victory …”

I don’t remember what they showed there. Some ball player jumping up and down, or something. No one paid attention, because we were waiting for the next scene:


It was a ski jumper, who somehow went off the course just as he reached the jump. Going at approximately the same speed as the space shuttle, he tumbled end over end while the skis, poles, helmet, shoes, and various body parts spun out in all directions. Even people like me, who didn’t stick around to watch the Mumbai Stick Races after the first commercial, would tune in every week to see the AGONY OF DEFEAT.

The guy walked away from that crash, by the way – just thought you should know. But boy, they never let him live it down. By the time I saw the skier at the state park bite it, I knew better than to try.

The rest of the Olympics remain typical kid things. Toboggan? Check. Shooting? When I was young, every neighborhood kid had a .22, although I can only imagine what our parents would have said if we tried to carry it around while skiing:

“Jeff!” (That’s my brother, he’d have tried it.) “Get off those skis before you fall down and break your leg and put somebody’s eye out! And give that gun to your brother, it’s his turn.”

Jeff only shot me once, which I consider poor aim on his part.

Hockey? Sure, kids across America would clear the snow off a pond and go at it, sometimes leaving space in one corner for the figure skaters. Speed skating is what happened after they lost the puck.


Bet you think you have me on that one, don’t you?

Curling was invented by two drunken Scotsmen in the 16th century, who were trying to find a way to warm up after cold breezes blew up their kilts. They formalized it as a game after a group of them slid rocks across the ice at the Loch Ness Monster in 1652. Brooms were used as methods of changing the stone’s path in 1712, when angry wives demanded they clean up after themselves. True story.

But it does relate to the things we did as kids (the stones, not the drinking – oh, never mind), and here’s how: When you were a kid, you skipped stones, right? Okay, not you, you sit down. But the rest of you? Sure.

And what did you do when you were wandering around in the winter, and found the pond frozen over?

Yep. You slid stones. Those Scotsmen, they were just having fun until the ice melted. Then all those stones fell through and landed on the Loch Ness Monster’s head, and that’s why we don’t see it anymore.

Put that in your opening ceremony.
Tags: column, new era, slightly off the mark

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