Monday, February 13, 2006

The Olympic spirit?

Anyone watch the men's cross-country skiing yesterday? One of the favorites got into a pileup at the beginning of the race, sending a handful of skiers sprawling. The story, if you listen to the coverage now, is of his heroic comeback from dead last to finish 2nd. The story, if you were watching then, was that Estil's teammates jumped out in front to slow the pace down so that Estil could catch up. Now, I may not be up on the ethics of Olympian athletes, but doesn't that sound a bit fishy? It's one thing to have the leader in the race slow down or stop and wait for a fallen competitor to get back up--which is what Lance Armstrong did so memorably a couple years ago in the Tour de France. But to have one's teammates warp the entire race in a non-team sport? Touching? Yes--the real story should have been on the other skiers who played along, though, not on the beneficiary of their actions. Their good sportsmanship is not to be doubted.
How tainted, however, is that silver medal? Severely, imho. So what if he was a star? Part of what makes an athlete respectable, and even admirable, is their determination in the face of setbacks; to have your setback erased by the actions of others merely calls into question the whole ethical aura of the competition itself. That is not what I watch sports for--I would have loved to have seen Estil fight his way back into a fair race, even if he didn't come close to the leaders. Would it really have marked him as an inferior athlete if he could have only passed 40 other racers in a real race, instead of 70 in what amounts to a fixed one?
It's a shame he got tangled up and fell. That happens, though, in sports. The race doesn't always go to the fastest; some of the best sports stories contain tragedy as well as the elevating of someone to previously unknown heights. If this one was only supposed to be about how the favorites fared against each other, why have any more than the top 3? 6? on the course at all?
I won't even begin to talk about the US downhillers, let alone Michelle ("Ow, I'm hurt. I quit.") Kwan. Sheesh.


Blogger sporksforall said...

I think it's worth mentioning that the announcers were accusing the gold medlaist of bad sportsmanship for not "pulling" at the front. It was a similar accusation to the one leveled at Hincapie on his Tour stage win last year. That he hung back, let everyone else do the work and then sprinted at the end. The Russian skier had good tactics. Period.

4:39 PM  
Blogger bryduck said...

I missed the action on that, but I did hear them mentioning "bad sportsmanship" in relation to something. I wondered what they were referring to, but they didn't say anything again. Screw that; it's a race that only happens once every 4 years, for God's sake! Do you think the rest of the field was letting Estil "win", then?

8:33 AM  
Blogger scout said...

Whew! For once it's not Americans being the asswipes. As sporks said in her blog, I'm totally down with a boatload of medals for the snowboarders: They're way too dudical to be Republicans—when they reach voting age, that is.

1:39 PM  

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