Still Waters Run Deep: Hip events drain tradition out of Olympics

Call me stuffy and mired in the past but when I think of the Olympic Winter Games, I think of tradition.

I remember Eric Heiden and Bonnie Blair blazing around the speedskating oval. I remember Al Michaels yelling about miracles after Mike Eruzione and the United States hockey team toppled the mighty Soviet Union. What I don't think of is snowboarding.

When I heard on Monday that the United States had picked up three more medals in Salt Lake City, I was eager to find out what had happened. Had Adam Heidt won the first medal in United States men's luge history? Had Picabo Street completed her amazing comeback with a medal in the women's downhill skiing event? No. The three medals had come in the men's halfpipe snowboarding event.

Later that night, NBC commentator Dan Hicks interviewed the three medalists. In particular, Hicks asked silver medalist Danny Kass how cool he thought the Olympics were now. Why? Because before the games, Kass apparently said he was "stoked" for the Olympics but mostly there for the beer and chicks.

I remember the 1994 Olympics when speed skater Dan Jansen overcame years of heartbreaking falls and near misses. In the final race of his storied career, Jansen won Olympic gold. As he stood on the medal stand and experienced his dream finally becoming a reality, I find it hard to believe the foremost thoughts on his mind were beer and chicks.

I certainly won't deny any of these young men their moment in the spotlight. But comments like those attributed to Kass make it sound like he doesn't truly appreciate what it means to be an Olympian.

The Olympic Winter Games clearly do not enjoy the same popularity as the summer games. So, in order to get the so-called "Y-Generation" interested in the snowy contests, events like snowboarding and aerial trick skiing were added.

A casual read of the post-Salt Lake snowboard sweep articles will uncover evidence that people who embrace snowboarding and other "extreme" sports don't necessarily embrace the Olympics. Why, then, is it necessary for something as traditional as the Olympics to make an effort to embrace those people?

The X-Games were created as a venue for practitioners of extreme sports to get some recognition without having their parades rained on by sentimental codgers like me. I realize these athletes are talented, but their events are extreme, not Olympic.

So I beg the International Olympic Committee to stop the madness before we bear witness to Olympic snowmobile racing, or give a gold medal to a guy named Biker Sherlock for winning the street luge event.

As much as I like Tony Hawk, I'd rather not hear that he was named captain of the Olympic skateboarding team for the games in Athens. I think the Greek organizing committee would have trouble finding people who could accurately judge a Stalefish McTwist.

Write to Josh at jsaylor5@yahoo.com


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