Monday, August 4, 2008

Humor Me: You could be huge in the luge

The summer Olympics are less than a week away. I'm cynical about the whole "spirit" of the Olympics thing -- I think just about everyone is looking for a way to cheat -- but I am pretty excited to watch the events. I believe there is about 4.5 million hours of coverage scheduled on NBC. I don't think that's mathematically possible, but the NBC promos make it seem that way.

So the summer Olympics are starting. But because it's so hot right now, I figured I would write a column about the winter Olympics to help everyone think cool thoughts.

OK, I admit it. This is actually my column from The Dallas Morning News during the winter Olympics. I'm trying to take a few days off and I have a big project that I'm working on that you'll probably hear about later.

So here it is:

Humor Me: You could be huge in the luge


After watching the Olympics for a week, I’m convinced that I have the athletic prowess to be an Olympic luger. What I don’t have, unfortunately, is a luge sled, time to train and a desire to wear a Catwoman suit on international television. I also don’t have citizenship in Barbados, a country desperately seeking a luger.

Most importantly, I don’t have the iron will to slide at nearly 80 miles per hour toward gold-medal glory — or a waiting ambulance. If I’m going to be a human torpedo, I at least require an air bag.

Just watching that crazy competition was scary. Every time a potential medalist/victim started down the track last week, I had to pretend he or she was Matthew McConaughey just so I wouldn’t worry about a dramatic wipeout.

(Note: I’m not saying that I want Sir Texas “All right, all right, all right!” to be seriously injured. I just want him dazed enough so he doesn’t make any more appearances on Oprah in which he says he doesn’t use deodorant because he has a nice natural smell.)

Anyway, it was fun to watch the lugers steer smoothly down the track, point their toes and aerodynamically scream in terror. It was even more fun to hear that the greatest luger of all time, German Georg Hackl, is nicknamed “The Sausage” because of the way he looks in a luge suit.

The Sausage!

That’s more reason to believe that I could be an Olympic luger. Or that I could’ve been, had certain residents of St. Paul, Minn., not crushed my dreams 20 years ago.

There I was: A 13-year-old on a family vacation, still full of youthful courage and idiocy, sledding down ice-packed sidewalks in the hilly neighborhood. I pointed my toes, steered smoothly around newspapers and whizzed past unsupportive adults who were shaking their fists.

For two days, I was a potential Sausage.

But it all ended with a scream of “stop it, you damn kids!” and a toss of some ice-melting salt. The neighborhood luge track turned back to sidewalk, and my goal of Olympic glory returned to a goal of solving two sides of a Rubik’s Cube.

Now think about it. How many other Olympic dreams have been dashed by an angry old man wearing a robe who slipped on an ice-packed sidewalk while reaching for a newspaper?

OK, I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that the United States’ success in luge is comparable to Iceland’s performance in water polo. In fact, we’re pretty weak in several sports of the Winter Games, and it’s obvious why:

Lack of interest.

Take biathlon, for example. That’s the Olympic sport that combines cross-country skiing, marksmanship, and when viewed in American living rooms, changing the channel. While biathletes are called heroes in countries such as Norway and Germany, Americans call 9-1-1 if they see someone on skis pointing a rifle.

Ski jumping, a big crowd-pleaser in Finland and Austria, is another sport America passes on. Maybe it’s because we all grew up seeing the sport’s most famous failure — the ABC’s Wide World of Sports “agony of defeat” guy who rocketed out of control off the ramp. Or maybe it’s because we get our ski jumping fill from watching people slip off snowy rooftops on America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Whatever the reason, we don’t care about ski jumping. At least not until the Olympics come around, and tiny punk countries like Switzerland and Slovenia take all the medals. Then we wonder why the richest country in the world doesn’t have an Evil Knievel on skis.

Someday, we will. Someday, Bob Costas will use a gallimaufry of words I don’t know to describe America’s first hero in the temerarious sport of ski jumping. Maybe an American will even win the Nordic combined, a skiing event in which America has never medaled.

Imagine if that happens!

Americans will cheer! Americans will celebrate! Americans will ask, “Is Nordic combined the sport where one person pushes the stone and then all those teammates sweep with the brooms on the ice?”

No, that’s curling. But we’re not very good at that either.

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