“Passion lives here.” In Torino, that is. With this motto in mind, the saccharine Feb. 9 opening ceremony wowed audiences with skating “Sparks of Passion” — a cross between a blowtorch and an extraterrestrial speed skater — and a maudlin configuration of a 4,000-person heart. This spectacular celebration culminated with the Games’ time-honored cliché: the lighting of the Web site-penned “Olympic Cauldron.”
Surely the Torino Olympic committee recruited from eharmony.com’s PR staff.
Nevertheless, inspired by the ceremony’s message of “sharing and fraternity,” enthusiastic figure skaters donned technicolor leotards and irreverent snowboarders slouched into grungy apparel and headed to their respective arenas.
The proverbial jewel in the crown of the Winter Games, figure skating promises to electrify audiences with quadruple-Salchows and triple-axels — and skimpy spandex to boot. The only thing missing from Torino’s rink is Michelle Kwan, the nine-time World Champion and the archetypal first-loser, whose injuries terminated her life-long pursuit of Olympic gold. In the post-Kwan vacuum, sultry Sasha Cohen emerges as America’s hope. But watch out, Sasha: Russia’s Irina Slutskaya boasts tricks as complex as her surname.
The men’s competition is no less exhilarating. Distinguishable by flowing blonde locks and exceptionally nimble footwork, Yevgeny Plushenko is the clear favorite. Unfortunately, on the Boytano-Hamilton scale of euphoric likeability, the icy Russian leans towards the former.
On the pair skating front — questionably distinct from Ice Dancing — the Russian duo of Tatyana Totmiyanina and Maxim Marinin have already claimed gold. Less-acclaimed couples, however, often benefit from a consolation prize unique to their sport. For many of these twosomes, hot ‘n’ heavy late-night practices have produced not only flawless routines but also a lifetime of marital bliss (note: dubious hand placement).
Perfect choreography and superhuman balance aren’t the only route to Olympic glory in Torino. Speed skaters, the aerodynamically-inclined kinfolk of figure skaters, whiz to their respective fates around a frozen track — all the while at the mercy of their competitors’ balance (think Australian Steven Bradbury’s leisurely glide to gold at the 2002 Games).
Thanks to the introduction of the relay-on-ice this year, the sport — already of Bonnie Blair fame — foresees an increasingly popular future. Desperate to avoid the extraneous weight of a 0.8 oz. baton, speed skaters have developed their own system: At the end of each leg, the racer boosts the next member of his or her relay into the next segment with a not-so-gentle nudge on the bottom. On a scale from riflery to wrestling, this newfangled relay scores an eight for its delightful homoeroticism.
Also relatively new to the Games, snowboarders have continued their campaign to X-tremify Olympic conventions with the introduction of the snowboard cross, a combination of slalom and aerial courses. Although the initial induction of snowboarders in 1998 was controversial, the manifest skills of these athletes give hope to an acceptance of “shredders” everywhere who are currently relegated to the lowest caste of mountain society.
Not to fear, skiers remain lords of the mountain. Already, young American Ted Ligety, conventionally overshadowed by teammate Bode Miller, has flown his way to gold in the combination race. Although Miller was disqualified from the slalom competition for “humping the gate,” the cavalier badass of the skiing world is likely to reign dominant in the remaining four skiing events.
With athletes such as Bode Miller captivating the attention of NBC sportscasters, lesser-known sports such as skeleton are relegated to the time slots known only by insomniacs. Its morbid title alone suffices to deter viewers, but skeleton is actually one of the more thrilling events at the Winter Games. In skeleton, a head-first variation of the luge, riders push speeds of 90 m.p.h. down the track. On the men’s side, Canadian Jeff Pain is the athlete to watch; on the women’s side, the Michelle Kwan-esque withdrawal of World Cup champion Noelle Pikus-Pace — whose tibia was crushed by a “runaway” bobsled — has opened the field to former “underdogs” such as Australia’s Michelle Steele and the United States’ Kate Uhlaender, either of whom could single-handedly dominate the entire “Cool Runnings” crew.
An Event of Its Own: Mawkish Bios with Gratuitous Use of Slow Motion and Color-Saturated Cinematography
Throughout their coverage, American newscasters often distract viewers from the Games’ athleticism by focusing on overemotional biopics of the prominent athletes, transforming what should be a celebration of athletic accomplishment into a contrived humanitarian project. Viewers should be allowed to delight in the awesome finesse of a curler without a belabored montage of how he survived child prostitution and a freak factory mishap. Although many of these athletes do in fact have remarkable stories to tell, the appeal of the Olympics is the sheer athletic competition of the world’s greatest, or luckiest, Home Depot employees.
With catchphrases such as “The Olympic spirit … is an integral part of the hope for a better future”, the Olympic Committee is also guilty of gratuitous sentimentality. The Games are not an international peace conference, but rather a sports event. But dammit, we love them anyway.
P.S. Tune into NBC next Monday to watch Helen Resor ’09 slay some ass on the ice.