Saturday, February 18, 2006

It’s Always Canada and the U.S. in the Final . . Or is It?

U.S. Women on a Cold Spell at Olympics, is the headline and the sub-text reads Hockey Team's Shocking Loss to Sweden Is Latest Disappointment. That’s a bit harsh of Barry Svrluga at the Washington Post.


Can you imagine being an American woman on that team, having played your heart out and losing, waking the next morning to that headline. Guess my country sent me to Turin for the Gold or else.


SwedenhockeyA 3-2 loss in a shootout and that’s the way shootouts are, unpredictable. The big load the U.S. women carried was that they’ve never been out of the finals in a world competition. They sat there on the bench, shaking their heads as if to clear this impossibility. Canada will play Sweden for the Gold. The U.S., if they can get themselves up for it, play on Monday for the Bronze.


They’ll be up, just need a day or two to get over that Washington Post headline about shocking losses and cold spells.


"I don't think anyone will ever understand," a tearful Swede, Erika Holst told CBC Sports. "We worked so hard for so long and finally we're here." Yeah well, more people understand than you think. You all played way above expectation and you deserve it.


LindseyjacobellisSame day, different scenario, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis embarrassed her way into a Silver. Victory in the Snowboard Cross Race, assured by such a margin that she couldn’t resist a little grandstanding. Grabbing her snowboard in the midst of a jump, just short of the finish line and 50 yards in the lead, she did a twist that didn’t quite twist correctly and wrecked. On her back, Lindsey watched Switzerland's Tanja Frieden move on by and finesse the Gold.


What would sports be without the unexpected, the unbelievable, the that-couldn't-happen moment?


Snowboard is an exuberant sport, fairly new to the Winter Games and a welcome addition to sports that no longer carry a huge following—curling comes to mind. It’s built around pushing edges instead of sliding stones, trying the impossible and making it, showing off and cheering, a sort of brotherhood and sisterhood of charismatic show-offs. It was an oops moment for Lindsey, sports are full of oops-moments.


LindseykildowAnother Lindsey, Lindsey Kildow, who figured to be one of the our best hopes for a medal in Alpine skiing, wrecked in a training run and hurt herself. Unlike Michelle Kwan, Lindsey performed through her pain and finished eighth in the Women’s Downhill. 1.29 seconds separated Lindsey from Gold, injured as she was, and plunked her in 8th place. Friday (what is it with Fridays?) she wiped-out again in the combined event, so it's not been a great Olympics, but she's an outstanding competitor.


The sporting life, from Michael Jordan’s stuck-out tongue to Dick Cheney’s shooting, is a matter of milliseconds, with all the disparate variables coming into play at a precise moment and the win or the loss on the table. Not any old moment of our choosing, this moment, right now. We all have our own personal most-thrilling-moment as a spectator and mine came in the ’76 Winter Olympics the Austrian, Franz Klammer’s Downhill victory. For me, it was a stunning minute and a half of balance on a razor’s edge of disaster.


It’s typical of sportswriters to look at a moment from among the blur of moments that make up a botched play at third base, a triple axel landed badly or a jockey’s use of the whip in a narrow loss. But sportswriters don’t play baseball, skate or ride racehorses. Cold spells and shocking losses are easy to assess from the sidelines.


Every athlete does their best, each moment the fates throw the cards and someone comes up a winner. To be there is enough, representing your country, grinning into the camera and stunned by the circumstances. The World Series, NBA Finals and Kentucky Derby all rolled into one ought to be exempt from someone’s opinion about cold spells or shocking loss.


These athletes bring me to the edge of my seat and, if there’s a little showboating in there, there’s wrecks and pulled groin muscles and concussions enough to make it even.


The celebration is the coming together in a world coming apart.
________________________________________________________


More at my personal web site about what interests me in International Affairs.