At the ’76 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, there were no American journalists clamoring for quotes, when Bill Koch won the USA’s first, and thus far only, Olympic medal in Nordic Skiing. So I get frustrated watching mobs of photographers and dozens of TV cameras following a figure skater’s every move.
And I’m tired of hearing how hard the figure skaters train. Okay, so they have to get up early, to get ice time. So what, most dedicated athletes get up early. The skaters practice their spins and jumps in a climate controlled arena, and following every short routine, they glide over to their coach, or choreographer, or costume designer, or sports psychologist for a reassuring hug. Those private coaches can cost the skater’s family a hundred thousand dollars a year, for several years in a row! Of course there is a payoff. If the skater medals in the Olympics, there is usually a contract worth millions, from Disney on Ice.
In contrast, when a Nordic skier goes out for a three hour distance workout, the athlete is actually skiing for those three hours, non stop, regardless of the weather, which is often well below zero. If an American skier astounds the Nordic world by earning a trip to the podium, there are no lucrative endorsements, no pro contracts, no celebrity series. The skier will be invited to speak at a local high school or Rotary Club, then it’s back to their regular job. If the skier is a member of the National Guard, as are many of America’s biathletes, their unit could be called to serve in Bosnia, Afghanistan, or perhaps even Iraq, and the former Olympian will be activated right along with the rest of the unit.
Don’t get me wrong, I admire the talent, athleticism and the composure of many figure skaters. I’m especially impressed by the strength and teamwork of the pairs skaters. But, since my first Winter Olympics in Japan back in 1972, I’ve thought the judging in figure skating was fickle at best, and occasionally downright unfair. I think Janet Lynn was robbed of the gold in Sapporo. Sixteen years later in Calgary, tiny Midori Ito from Japan stole the show, but according to the judges, wasn’t worth a medal. Surya Bonaly of France was arguably the most athletic figure skater at Lillehammer, and the only woman capable of an astounding back flip. She finished fourth.
Thanks to revelations that a Russian mobster influenced skating judges in Salt Lake, my suspicions have been confirmed. But there’s nothing to worry about. Apparently, in figure skating, if there is impropriety by the judges, duplicate gold medals are awarded, and everyone goes home happy. Go figure.
This is John Morton in Thetford, Vermont.