ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
Are you excited about the upcoming Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City?
Or are you more interested in how your local high school basketball and wrestling teams are doing?
My guess is the latter.
Unless you’re a transplant from the frozen tundra in the northern United States, it’s hard to identify with most Winter Olympics events. Last time I checked, “Ski Kansas” was not our state slogan. Granted, you can cross-country ski without mountains, but it’s hard to snow ski without snow.
Since Kansas snowfalls are few and far between, most of us never experience ski jumping. Soaring with eagles looks like it could be fun though. Of course, eagles are more graceful, fly farther and have smoother landings.
Figure skating is another sport that’s hard to practice in Kansas. We have precious few ice-skating rinks in the state. Besides, it’s hard to skate outside when the ice is so thin that you risk life and limb by venturing out.
If you think basketball officiating is a challenge, try figure skating. I don’t know how judges come up with their scores, but I’m fairly certain that it’s not a good thing for a skater to fall on his or her backside.
Can you imagine the disappointment an athlete must feel after spending hours, days and years of practice preparing for a chance at an Olympic medal, only to have it come crashing down in one nightmarish fall?
Politics and figure skating go together like peanut butter and jelly. Is it merely a coincidence that the American judge consistently has rated Eastern European skaters with low scores and the Eastern European judge has rated American skaters with low scores? Maybe the thawing of the cold war will make the politics of figure skating less political.
If I was asked to offer some advice to an overseas skater, I’d suggest they choose a patriotic American song. It would generate support from the pro-American spectators in Salt Lake City. It might even positively influence a few judges.
Bobsledding is another fascinating spectator sport not seen in Kansas. Imagine what it must be like going down a winding, narrow path at breakneck speeds. It looks considerably more dangerous than sledding the hills in Marion County. Although one could argue that sledding in Marion County is equally dangerous given the few opportunities we have to practice it.
For one Kodak moment, hockey captured America’s fancy two decades ago when the U.S. team accomplished one of the great “Do you believe in miracles?” upsets of all time by beating the then dreaded Soviet Union.
But hockey is not played in Kansas high schools and colleges, so the sport is not high on the list of most Kansas sports fans.
Curling is a relatively new Olympic sport, and in case you didn’t know, it has nothing to do with hairstyles. Brooms are used to sweep the ice in front of the rock, not to clean it, but to create enough friction to make a thin layer of moisture to help the rock slide. The object of the game is to hit a circular target at the other end of the ice.
The United States has about 15,000 curlers. Canada, on the other hand, has almost 1.2 million of the estimated 1.5 million curlers in the world. Guess which country might win one or more curling medals?
The best part of the Winter Olympics is the fact they exist. It’s OK that many of the sports are not the most popular in America. It’s fun just to see the best athletes in the world compete in their specialty.
With patriotism at a longtime high, American athletes will garner ample support, but against whom do we root? It will be a refreshing change simply to root for the home team without rooting against anyone.
The cost of fighting terrorism and making the Olympics safe is great. But the cost of canceling the Olympics out of fear is far greater.
Let the Games begin!