Steve Cameron: We waited four years for this?

February 19, 2010 

STEVE CAMERON

So here we are in the midst of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Thrill-packed stuff.

Hey, it's almost painful waiting four long years for each Winter Games, right? I mean, how do you keep up with the world bobsleigh rankings, other than in an Olympic year?

(And why did they change the name of the sport from bobsled to bobsleigh in the first place?)

Yeah, I admit some of the events are a little more exciting than others.

Watching seven or eight Scandinavians battle it out with a half-dozen Russians in the 400,000-meter cross-country, over-the-border-and-back ski race isn't likely to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Curling isn't likely to make you a coronary candidate, either.

What else can you say about a sport where the most critical piece of equipment is a broom?

One of the problems with the Winter Olympics, of course, is that maybe 90 percent of Americans have never attempted any of the sports involved.

You know any lugers or slalom racers from the San Joaquin Valley?

Ever see anyone in Merced practicing marathon skiing while carrying a rifle for target shooting?

Except for the figure skaters -- back to them in a minute -- American kids who turn up in the Winter Olympics generally come from mountaintop villages (Alpine skiing) or a narrow band of real estate along the Canadian border (hockey players, cross-country skiers, curlers, etc.).

True, a world-class figure skater COULD pop up in Delhi or Gustine.

All you need is a bit of physical coordination and parents willing to force you onto the ice at the age of 2 -- for six-hour sessions, seven days a week, forever.

You can even be a bit of a thug, like Tonya Harding.

Harding's clever idea to hire some goons in an attempt to kneecap U.S. rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 ranks right up there with the greatest moments in the history of Winter Olympic events.

Harding's escapades never won her a gold medal, but she kept the Portland-area cops busy for years. In my DVD collection of Tonya's career highlights, I'd have to rank her try at braining some boyfriend of the moment with a hubcap right at the top.

In addition to her legitimate skating accomplishments -- don't laugh, but Tonya was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition -- Harding also introduced a completely new concept to sports.

The do-over.

Sure, golfers take "mulligans," but that's generally in a Sunday beer round.

Harding actually perfected the art of second chances in serious competition. At various international events, she earned extra tries on the ice for a broken button on her dress, a loose blade on her skate and, infamously, a bootlace that was too short for her skates.

Not counting Tonya, though, what are your favorite Winter Olympic moments?

OK, there was the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980 -- American college kids knocking off a team of Russian professionals to win the hockey gold medal.

What's your SECOND most memorable accomplishment at the Games?

It's almost embarrassing to admit this, but I actually DO recall a couple of Winter Olympic highlights.

How about the guy dressed head to toe in canary yellow who won the men's downhill race on his last run -- barely staying upright as he careened down the mountain?

Franz somebody, I think.

Or maybe that was Jean-Claude whozit.

Truth is, if you don't count the American hockey upset or Britain's hilarious ski-jumper, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, the most thrilling event in Winter Olympic history was the spectacular crash of the Jamaican bobsled team in 1988.

Heck, that one even turned into a popular movie called "Cool Runnings."

I'm not holding my breath to see if there will be any cinema moments in Vancouver.

In fact, like most Americans south of Minnesota, I'm missing most of these Games.

But feel free to ring me with the results of the ice-fishing.

Isn't that an Olympic sport?

Steve Cameron is a freelance columnist for the Sun-Star. He can be reached at stevecameron1000@gmail.com.

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