Herald Journal Columns
March 6, 2006, Herald Journal

Immaturity of Olympic proportions

By LIZ HELLMANN

The Olympics are over, Americans can finally crawl out of their holes.

Holes of shame, that is. Which is where we should all be hiding if we paid a single sliver of attention to the 20th Winter Olympic Games.

I personally think Olympic athletes are a little crazy. Having competed in several competitive sports at the high school and college level, I cannot begin to imagine the complete and utter dedication it would take to train at that level.

I respect not only the performances these athletes give on game day, but I respect the countless hours of sweat, blood, and tears they endured in the darkness of gyms and training rooms for years before they got to that point.

You’d have to be a little crazy to go through all of that for a medal, hung on a piece of cloth.

Unfortunately for Team USA, several members neither earned, nor deserve any such respect.

I have no desire to kick Team USA for not bringing home more medals; competition, for me, has never solely been about medals or trophies.

However, it is about harnessing your training, focusing on the task at hand, and doing your best.

If someone else’s best is better than yours, so be it.

But in too many cases throughout these Olympics, Team USA was not beaten by a better competitor, they were beaten by poor attitudes, selfish performing, and egos too big for their skates.

The job of Olympic athletes is to represent their country, on and off the course, rink, or sled, whatever it may be.

If most of the world sees Americans as selfish, spoiled, arrogant people, then I’d say these athletes represented us perfectly.

(That is not to say that all the Olympians representing our country came off this way, but several did.)

One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. Even if two-thirds of Team USA conducted themselves exemplary, but one-third behaved badly, whom do you think will leave the lasting impression?

Let’s take a look at some examples.

Before the games even started, controversy swirled around figure-skating, as the injured Michelle Kwan was chosen on seniority, instead of merit.

Although one may argue that she should have never been given that ticket to Turin, the queen of the ice did the right thing and bowed out gracefully, in the end.

A sort of happy ending that would not find its way to the self-titled “Best in the World” American ski team, who rode the slippery slopes of Italy right into a cave of humiliation – only no one told them.

One of the best skiers in the world, or so we were told, Bode Miller made an unbelievable showing, but not in a good way.

In an Olympics where he could have potentially won five medals, he managed to get disqualified for several races, including his last one, where he missed a gate.

His best finish was fifth place.

The only extraordinary act Miller performed was to drink away his nights and let his callous attitude uproot his natural talent.

Even more astonishing is the fact that he appeared to be arrogant in interviews, immediately after he was done screwing up, er, participating in all of his events.

I wonder if anyone will ever clue him in on the secret that he did not do well, and that spinning he feels is most likely the effect of a hangover, not the world revolving around him.

Next was boxing, oh, wait, that was supposed to be speed skating?

Team members Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick let their personal distaste for each other overshadow their talents.

The question became not, “who had the best time,” but “who had the best jab in the post-event interview.”

At least these two won some medals to go along with their bad attitudes.

It doesn’t matter who was right or wrong, but neither should have let their interviews turn into a high school girls’ gossip corner.

I think the word is professionalism?

On that note, I’m happy to see that one of the interviews I watched with Hedrick was outside, because his ego might have pushed his interviewer out of any enclosed room.

Yes, he is talented. But, he is also good at making excuses and downplaying his goals – only when he doesn’t reach them – with such a concieted tone it makes you wonder if he gets a bloody nose from turning it up so high.

Another class act was freestyle aerialist Jeret Peterson, who was sent home early from the games after punching a friend outside a bar. The reigning world champion placed seventh in freestyle aerials.

There were some inspiring moments in the games, as well as some inspiring athletes, some of which were actually American.

I enjoyed watching figure skater Sasha Cohen try with all her heart to earn the gold. But the perpetual runner-up did just that.

Nonetheless, it is the commitment in her eyes, the fact that she pours her soul into what she does that makes her an Olympian.

Likewise, skier Lindsey Kildow showed her dedication by racing, in pain, after injuring her back during a downhill training run.

Speed skater Joey Cheek showed more class in his tiny finger than those two other guys on his team by earning a silver and gold medal, and donating his entire performance bonuses to charity.

However, the sad reality is many of the high-profile athletes did a disservice to America and to the Olympics with their immature demeanor.

Or, did America do a disservice to the Olympics by breeding such apathetic athletes?

Judging by the actions of America’s elite athletes, superstars, and idolized celebrities, maybe it is America we should blame.

Not the country, but ourselves. Maybe if we stop drooling over athletes simply for their talents, and celebrities simply for their status, we can send a message to these pedestal-posers that it is not OK to act like a conceited Neanderthal because you are talented.

It starts with our attitudes, our actions, and our influence on everyone around us. We are all, in fact, Americans.

If we let those around us get away with infuriating immaturity, how can we expect anything less from those representing us?

To all the athletes who represented America with honor these Olympic games, thank you, you are a rare gem, indeed.


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