February 17, 2006

Olympic Athletes Deserve Respect

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Yesterday afternoon I went to go play basketball at Helen Newman. While I’m no LeBron James, or even as good as my 14-year-old cousin, I realized that I could physically shoot the ball and occasionally it will fall into the basket.

No, this was not the most profound revelation during my time here at Cornell, but it did make me realize something.

We are in the midst of a two-week event consisting of the best athletes in the world. Of course, I’m talking about the Winter Olympics.

Yes, all of you American sports fans will say that I can see the best athletes in the world every night during the NBA or NFL season. That’s a fair point because I will never be able shoot a basketball like Kobe Bryant or throw a football like Peyton Manning.

However, I am physically able to shoot a basketball and throw a football. But never in my life will I be able to ski on flat ground for 42 minutes over a 15-kilometer course without stopping, as the skiers do in the cross-country pursuit event. Ever. Oh, and did I mention that these are women who finish in this amount of time, and that 33-year-old silver medalist Katerina Neumannova of the Czech Republic just gave birth 2 1/2 years ago? I am 21 and got winded after playing three basketball games up to 11 points.

How about the biathlon? Ever hear of that one? Their version of the pursuit is much easier because all you have to do is ski 10 kilometers instead of 15. Oh, I forgot, you also have to shoot five bullets out of a .22-caliber rifle at a target 50 meters away in between. Oh, and you have to do a 150-meter penalty loop for each target you miss. That’s like making Jeff Gordon do a Daytona 600 because he couldn’t shoot beer cans off a guy’s head in the infield during pit stops.

I know it’s hard for the average American viewer to get into the Olympics because the results for the day’s events are known before NBC’s primetime coverage, and because “The Worldwide Leader in Sports” only has still shots from Torino. But no matter how much people make fun of the sparkles on U.S. men’s figure skater Johnny Weir’s outfit, I’m willing to bet that no male reading this right now can, wearing skates, jump into the air, spin around three times and then land one skate on the ice.

Sure it’s uncomfortable for me to watch another man gyrate his body like that, but I have to respect his athletic ability.

While there are some athletes who I respect because I am physically unable to do the same things they do, I absolutely revere those athletes who do what I wouldn’t even try.

No, I’m not talking about sweeping the ice to slow down the curling stone. Hurdling myself head first down a sheet of ice on sleds that, according to NBC’s Olympic website, “can reach speeds of 80 mph on particularly fast tracks, [and] lack devices to assist with steering or braking.” I think I’d rather ride a bull.

Speaking of circus tricks, how about freestyle moguls? What I don’t understand about this event is, who in their right mind figured that not only should a ski course have bumps that skiers speed over in a seemingly knee-breaking fashion, but it should also include periodic jumps where skiers twist their bodies three full revolutions while doing a back flip? I have a better question. Who would actually participate in such an event? Well, a football player and a Cornellian, of course. Unfortunately, Colorado football standout Jeremy Bloom and Cornell junior Travis Mayer finished in sixth and seventh place, respectively. Fittingly, it was Toby “Awesome” Dawson who was the highest American finisher in the event, as the skier who once came back from a broken foot in just two weeks, earned the bronze.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about this next sport, or as I like to call it the ultimate death wish – ski jumping. Because why jump on a normal hill, which measures 116 yards from the takeoff point to the end of the landing area, when you can do the 153-yard large hill, in which a skier is in the air for, on average, 5.5 seconds? It’s really apples and oranges, because any way you slice it, if you fall, you’re in a whole lot of trouble.

Crashes have unfortunately been far too frequent at this year’s games, especially for the Americans, as downhill skier Lindsey Kildow and luger Samantha Retrosi each had horrific accidents.

Yet that just adds to the Olympic lure for me. Obviously nobody wants to see anybody get hurt, but to see these athletes risk so much for not even 15 minutes of fame, makes the Winter Games great. So, no matter how obscure a sport may be, or how flamboyant an athlete may be, I will always watch each and every sport that the Olympics have to offer.

Chris Mascaro is the Sun Sports Editor.He May Be Tall will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Chris Mascaro