To begin with; American Speed skaters blamed their Under Armour designer ski suits for their miserable showing in opening rounds of competition in Sochi. You think they would have noticed the difference by checking their stop-watch in training sessions. Maybe someone put vodka in their tomato juice.
The extreme craziness of athletes in competition was never more apparent while watching young kids fly through the air on what looked like skate boards doing flips, turns and somersaults before they landed gently and perfectly on the snow beneath them. We never witnessed anything like that when I was a kid. Look at all the fun we missed.
Snow sports are sometimes fun to watch, but competition on ice better illustrates the strength, power, ingenuity, artistic expression, skill and competitiveness of Olympic sports. Case in point: ice hockey, curling and figure skating.
Strength, power and physical stamina was never more evident than the U.S. 3-2 overtime defeat of Russia. Curling (shuffleboard on ice) gave us a great example of individual ingenuity, personal skill and subtle team effort. However, figure skating illustrates the change in competitor’s skills, creativity, natural ability and performance.
I don’t know what a perfect triple toe axel or a triple loop looks like but I do know how much I enjoy watching both men and women dance and compete on ice. I do know it looks a lot different than watching Sonja Henie on the big screen when I was a kid.
Sonja Henie was a Norwegian figure skater. A 10-time World Champion, three-time Olympic Champion and six-time European Champion. She took her beauty and athletic skill to the big screen in 1939. During the 1940’s she starred in the “Hollywood Ice Revue” at the Rockefeller Center Theatre in New York City. At the time, she had won more Olympic and World titles than any other women’s figure skater. She was also the highest paid entertainer during her career. Like Ester Williams, she encouraged half the women in the world to get involved in sports. You have to wonder if she would have any medals competing against today’s athletes. Too bad she is never mentioned by any so-called sports analysts during the skating events.
In my day, we looked up to our star athletes. They were our idols. Buster Crabbe, Johnny Weissmuller, Jesse Owens. Boxers like Joe Lewis, Rocky Marciano, Jake LaMotta and Kid Gavilan were included in everyday conversations. And, in the mid 40’s, what kid didn’t want to play football like Jim Thorp even though he was stripped of his two Olympic gold medals won in 1912 because he for played professional football, baseball and basketball while competing in track events. Thirty years later they reinstated his Olympic status.
Baseball players like Babe Ruth were idolized by everyone even though he “drank enough beer to sink a ship.” Of course the drug of the day was cocaine. Women carried it in their sachet case to attract the baseball players at social events. The speed of fast balls and the number of stolen bases always increase the day after the parties.
Maybe sports haven’t changed over the years. But at least we should teach American skaters how to dress.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist.