2/25/2006

The real Olympians

Joey Cheek: not as cheeky as Bode Miller, but managed to get the gold anyway

See, here's the thing. The guys and gals who've actually been bringing home the gold are photogenic and very decent people, which makes it all the more mystifying that anyone at all should care about pathetic Bode (or BOOOOO-DEE as they're now calling him at NBCOlympics.com) Miller, self-promoting Playgirl fodder Jeremy Bloom, and loutish Daron Rahlves. The much-touted promotional "Bad Boys" of Team America turned out to be a bunch of do-nothing big-mouths in the end, didn't they?

I just can't help but draw parallels between our poor choices in sports heroes and our poor choices in politicians. And this goes back to the ape-like USA! USA! USA! chant used to advertise the games that echoed the same at Ground Zero after 9/11. I know it's dangerous to draw such parallels, but I do think they're there.

Do we esteem naked ambition and self-promotion over talent and integrity? Boorish, bullish behavior over poise and decency? Well, it may be the cultural and historical moment we're in. (Ya think?)

The truth is we haven't done that bad for ourselves, medalwise, in Torino. We've won 23 medals in all, second place to Germany's 27. Of those, 8 have been gold (to Germany's 11). Not bad. Totally respectable, in fact. But we didn't obliterate our opponents. We did not annihilate our enemies. It’s not a problem unless you swagger in prepared to shock-n-awe ‘em, and then have to leave with your tail between your legs.

Maybe that’s why the media focus has been inordinately on those on Team America who failed to live up to the hype, while news that the perfectly delightful Joey Cheek announced he was donating his $25,000 bonus to his favorite charity elicited a yawn. OK, so Cheek’s no bad boy. He didn’t grow up in a log cabin without electricity and running water, and has not appeared half-naked in licentious homoerotic poses, wasn’t featured in the Sunday New York Times Magazine bearing his balls. And granted, speed skating is not as dangerous as barreling down a mountainside, but the winter Olympics is not all downhill and giant slalom. There’s bobsled, skating, and curling, for chrissake.

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