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Commentary

I Don’t Care. I’m With Hope.

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Lots of schadenfreude in the op ed pages and comment sections since Hope Solo, bitter and disappointed in Team USA’s unexpected loss to Sweden in the Olympics, stepped in it on the world stage. Facing the athletically superior Americans, Sweden used a strategy of slow down and keep-away to maintain a slim lead, and hung on to win. After the game, Solo, the American goalkeeper, frustrated and heartbroken, lashed out, calling the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” for their tactical unwillingness to engage the Americans straight up.

To be clear, Solo shouldn’t have done that. It not only reflected poorly on her and on the team, but it gave the Sweden’s snarky coach (who once upon a time coached the American team, and knew them well) on opportunity to gloat.

The recriminations against the larger-than-life Solo, who has been no stranger to controversy, were as swift and merciless as they were gleeful. Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Sally Jenkins wrote against Solo as if gunning for some sort of personal retribution, her petty screed so tangible I swear I could see the ink running where here spittle-flying assault speckled the text. I had no idea so many people hated a woman who has, by her own admissions, has had some troubled moments and suffered from some serious lapses in judgement off the field, while possibly being the all-time best American to ever play.

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Today, it was reported that Solo has had her contract cancelled as well as receiving a 6-month suspension from the national team. I expected Solo to face discipline, but I’m not sure that stripping one the great athletes of her generation of her livelihood in the waning years of her career is commensurate to her transgression.

The thing that I keep coming back to is that Solo’s remarks–and once again I’ll tell you that she was wrong to make them–were made in the moments following a devastating and unexpected loss. I couldn’t help but think of the press pillorying Cam Newton after the most recent Super Bowl when the player seemed withdrawn and unemotional after his gut-wrenching loss. I thought at the time: do you  want the guy who seems utterly destroyed by a super bowl loss on your team, or the guy who is glibly yakking it up with the media, smiling and barking “we’ll get ’em next year” platitudes? I’ll take the destroyed guy every time, the guy who is aching.

It is no different with Hope Solo. I want the players who are broken up or, yes, mad as hell, about losing. I don’t want sheep. I want lions, and whatever Hope Solo may be she is, first and foremost, a lion.

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I’m More Patriotic Than You…

…And I can prove by being the biggest asshole I can be to Olympic Gymnast Gabby Douglas, a young woman I never met, barely heard about, and haven’t thought of since her spectacular performances in the London Olympic Games of 2012.

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In case you’re living under a rock–and if so, I envy you–you at least know who Gabby Douglas is, but just in case, here’s the lowdown: American gymnast, kicked ass in London four years ago, made the team again this year as a bit of a long shot at age 20. Once a darling of the media, and those who are told by the media who is supposed to be our darling, she was replaced this time around with a younger, even better model of cute tiny bouncing jumping twisting tumbling cover-your-eyes-she-could-fall bundle of energy and recast as the somber old fogey grasping for a last chance at glory.

Douglas did well, but not as well as the last time around, and she was clearly disappointed in herself, which the media played up, contrasting her unhappiness with the effervescent ebullience of Simone Biles, the aforementioned new darling. Douglas was good enough to compete for the team award, however, which won a Gold Medal, which should have been the crowning moment for a stupendous week, if it weren’t for a lapse.

During the playing of the American National Anthem. Douglas stood straight-backed and stoic, hands at her side.Uh-oh.
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The internet exploded with angry recriminations as spit-spraying idiots tripped all over themselves in competition to prove how fucking awesomely patriotic they are by trying to administer the biggest symbolic beat down on some kid, by tearing into a young woman whose big crime is a breach of the “flag code.”

I could not help but wonder what mode of torment would sufficiently punish this horrible bitch for her irredeemable transgression. Would tar and feathering be good, or is that too old fashioned? What about burning at the stake?  Or hanging?–but that might remind us of some stuff great-grandpa did on his night rides that we’d rather not talk about. Gunfire seems to be in vogue–but it turned out they were content to rant on twitter like a bunch of petty little children.

It didn’t help that the internet is filled with photos like this, from a previous competition:
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The Twitter noise was intense, as morons vomited recriminations from trailer packs across the country. You can find them easily enough, but I won’t link a thing here, lest I generate hits for these bellicose asshats. But the content is easy enough to imagine: bitch, traitor, ingrate, baby, un-American, and a host of subtle and not so  subtle racial stuff, much of it aimed as impaling Ms. Douglas as a proxy for the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s been hard to read any of it without feeling ashamed by my own patriotism, wondering, is this the country that I love so much?

Seriously. This is what outrages us? What a small, ugly people we’ve become. They ought to build a wall to keep us in. Until then, I’m forced to wonder, which is more unpatriotic?
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Commentary Narrative/Journal

Ali. Now There Was A Man.

When I was a kid, Muhammad Ali was a ubiquitous media figure, whether he was fighting or being interviewed or selling cologne on the television. I missed the early years of his ds_24ali353_20120724220624672219-300x0career, and only learned about the political aspects of his fame much later. (a link to a fantastic article on Ali follows my post).  As I encountered him, he was just one of the pantheon, a star of stars. Race, religion, and politics never entered into the equation any more than they did when I thought of my other childhood heroes: Willie Stargell, Mean Joe Green, and Mr. Rogers. I never realized until later just how bright Ali shined, the star among stars.  Like many of my generation, we looked back on Ali with new interest long after he’d faded from public view, after he returned to the world stage at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, his trembling arm raised to alilight the Olympic flame, a man refusing to be bowed by age or the horribly ironic Parkinson’s that clawed at his body. I’ll never forget sitting in a restaurant near Wilson, Wyoming, drinking beer and eating pizza with friends, watching The Greatest ascend to light the torch, my eyes moist with respect and admiration. I cannot think of a person more deserving of the title, American Hero. He surely was that–as flawed as the rest of us, but possessed of a drive and determination that not only made him literally the greatest fighter of all time, but which drove him to risk everything for his beliefs, even when that meant potentially losing his career as well as his freedom. It is rare for us to see men who even come close to Ali’s stature. More is the pity.

http://www.sport-magazine.co.uk/features/muhammad-misunderstood

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My Favorite Olympic Moment

4x100Most people pick USA vs. USSR Hockey or basketball.  Now, my mom wasn’t even born when Jesse Owens rubbed that whole “master race” crap in Hitler’s face in Berlin, 1936,  and I wasn’t quite two years old at the time of the famous “black power” salute in Mexico City, 1968.  Those were big, historical moments.  The most exciting moment I’ve experienced was, admittedly, a whole lot smaller and lacked any real political subtext beyond the usual, benign disrespect between Americans and French–you know: we’re lazy and tacky and like ketchup and peanut butter, and they smell bad, breathe arrogance, and habitually surrender to Germany at a moment’s notice.

Allies who love to hate each other make perfect rivals, especially when Alain Bernard, the superstar French swimmer, derisively dismissed his USA counterparts before the 4×100 Freestyle in the 2008 Beijing games.  “The Americans?” Bernard sneered, “We’re going to smash them.  That’s what we came here for.”

While the cameras focused on USA Star Mike Phelps and Bernard, in the end it was veteran Jason Lezak, the oldest member of the team who was, for the most part, largely unknown outside the swimming world, who took down the haughty Bernard.

http://sports.espn.go.com/oly/summer08/swimming/news/story?id=3528865

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Olympics Volume 2–Meryl Takes Down Downton

It was Sunday night, the sofa was soft, the down comforter warm, and the sun was shining on Downton Abbey–it’s always shining on the glacially slow BBC soap opera, you might have noticed, despite what I’ve heard about England, yet it was brighter still inside the ice arena in Sochi, Russia where the world’s finest ice dancers were doing their thing in the short program–see how I’m talking in cool skater jargon?–and lighting things up.  We tuned out of England and headed for the East.

I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at, of course–I know basketball and football (American Football, the best kind 😉 )–but all I know about skating is that skaters have to fit “swizzles” into their programs.  Otherwise, I’m judging what looks good, what looks fluid and graceful and, well, (sorry, gentlemen) what looks pretty.  Last night, they all looked pretty, and it doesn’t help that I’m a guy who, despite feminist leanings, can’t help noticing how beautiful some of these women are–muscles, smiles, short skirts–it’s better than art on a wall.  I’m generally too beguiled by the beauty and the unfamiliar sport to be any kind of judge, unless one of them teeters visibly or falls down.

moir, virtueThe top couples last night all stayed upright.  We caught Canadians Scott Moir and  Tessa Virtue early on and decided they were unbeatable, even if the young lady didn’t have the most perfect figure skater name ever.  Tessa Virtue.  A name like that doesn’t even need a publicist–at least not in theory.

Elena Ilinykh, Nikita KatsalapovA short while later, we enjoyed watching a young Russian pair, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, and you know what? Yep, they looked unbeatable, though I thought–or, more appropriately, felt something that made me wonder if the Canadians were not just a little bit better.  At it turned out, it was close, but I was right.

Fabian Bourzat Nathalie PechalatThe next skaters were noticed were a French pair, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who I think I liked best of all, up to that point, and guess what: I thought they looked unbeatable. It doesn’t hurt that Ms. Pechalat wore the most beautiful, most exuberant smile on her already beautiful face throughout their program–I wanted them to do well on spirit alone, and they did, landing briefly in third place behind Ilinykh/Katsalapov and Virtue/Moir.

Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew PojeThey had to know it would be short-lived.  Even though another young Canadian pair–Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje--came out and gave a great showing–not quite unbeatable, but fluid and spirited, and Ms. Weaver’s brilliant blue dress was the hands-down scene stealer of the evening, the night belonged to the last couple to skate.

It seemed like NBC packed an especically dense set of commercials into the space before Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the ice, and why shouldn’t they?  This all-American couple of student-athletes has been anointed as the face of the American Olympic team this year, and for all intents and purposes they were a very good choice: smart, upbeat, and wholesome–some of my favorite images of this Olympics have been of White and Davis off the ice, cheering for their team-mates and consoling them when things haven’t turned for the best.  You have to like that.

c55885bce17cdc211e64e00fb26901b6dc406cd5Of course, they’re also the best skaters in the world right now, and while I can’t quantify why, it was clear the moment they hit the ice–even to a neophyte like myself.  I could not see, so much as I felt the difference–the skill and the surety of their performance, the confidence in every movement.  It is their moment, they knew it, and their world record finish pretty much cemented the fact–while simultaneously burying all but the most emphatic–and nationalistic–rumors of score fixing that had been swirling around. Meanwhile, back and Downton Abbey, absolutely nothing had happened.

More Olympics:

https://oldroadapples.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/the-olympics-volume-1/

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Totally Digging Figure Skating–Well, I’ll Be Damned

Some things–like the bus that runs you down–you never see coming.  When I was a kid, my mom used to torture me by taking me to the Ice Capades every year, year after year–until I was, I think, 13 and convinced her to let me bring my friend Kazoo.  Instead of me sitting there sulky and miserable, I had a co-conspirator to cackle and sneer and chortle and guffaw.  I remember they had some guy in a bumblebee outfit–a former Japanese Olympian, if memory serves–doing a routine, probably just to humiliate him, as if Nagasaki wasn’t enough.

We howled, “bzzz, bzzz, bzzz!” and garnered endless angry stares and silent rebukes from The Greatest Generation, all gathered so sternly about us.  So ended an era, she must have thought. For me, it was like Moses parted the Red Sea.  I was free.

baiul93I can’t say I’ve been indifferent to the sport ever since.  The infamous Tanya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan thing couldn’t be ignored, especially when my job at the time allowed me to briefly (like, 90 seconds) meet Kerrigan, who was actually really nice, and Oksana Baiul, who was not nice, drank like a sailor on leave, and chain-smoked Marlboro Lights–in fairness all qualities I happened to admire, at the time; she seemed to weigh about 73 pounds, tops, though, but had a really cool white fur coat.  White fox?  Ermine?  As usual, I digress.

Sochi Olympics Figure SkatingI ate a bowl of spaghetti in front of the TV last night, since the kids were out and my wife was 10 pages from the end of a book, and got hooked on the free skate portion of the couples figure skating, and I’m man enough to admit it.  Specifically, a pair of Russians called Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov blazed through a perfect routine–or what looked like a perfect routine to this old redneck–and just totally, completely, indubitably rocked it. When they finished, 2014-02-12T183332Z_520057297_LR2EA2C1FJLA8_RTRMADP_3_OLYMPICS-FIGURESKATINGgrim determination melted into exuberance, and the absolute cutest fist pump I’ve seen in ages.  Yep, I was hooked.  The unbridled enthusiasm charmed me utterly, especially in a sport in which the competitors are often firmly taciturn.  A few minutes of 934-1q5utA.AuSt.55.jpegcommercials later, another Russian pair–favorites Maxim Trankov and Tatiana Volosozhar–hit the ice.  I’d seen them tearing things up in the shorter routine (oh, the horror–what have I become?) the night before, and expected them to have that same sort of grim professionalism, but this time–with the pride of their nation seemingly in the balance–they couldn’t keep their emotion and energy contained.

They didn’t look as technically, icily perfect as the night before.  Indeed, Maxim Trankovthey seemed possessed by some otherworldly force. I was certain that there was no way they could fall, nor stumble, nor fail.  It had been ordained by a great power (God?  Putin?).  These folks owned the ice–or at least leased it, long-term, from Mad Vlad, and would not be denied.  I must admit I was a bit jealous that I wasn’t Russian–if that makes sense at all.  It would really have been something to cheer for these four athletes with the passion and conviction of nation with me.

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Commentary Quote

Olympics: What I Want To See/Paralympics

“Self doubt is a much greater disability than a guy who’s missing both his Calhounlegs.”–Heath Calhoun

Unless you’ve been living under an abandoned fiberglass pickup camper top in the high grass back in the corner of the yard, beside the compost pile, you’ve probably seen this commercial from AT&T.  I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, though I didn’t remember what exactly it was advertising.  As a sentimental, soppy-eyed old fart I was transfixed by the imagery.

I wondered: who the hell is this guy?  But my TV is too old and small to read the tiny white print that says his name, so I kept wondering for a week or so until I finally found some answers.

http://www.bustle.com/articles/15108-who-is-heath-calhoun-10-facts-about-the-paralympics-skier-att-commercial-star

Very quickly, I wanted to know more.  The more I read, the more I found.  It turns out that Mr. Calhoun has a fan or two…or two million.

Forget the figure skating, the curling that we pretend to think it’s cool because it’s so strange and liking something that boring has a certain ironic cachet, I want to see this badass and his competitors burn down the mountain, and I want to see it front and center, in prime time.  In the age of so-called “reality tv” with it’s scripted “reality” its fix-is-in pretensions of competition, and its limp, vapid, sub-division values, why not give us the true reality of folks like Mr. Calhoun, whose response to getting dumped on by a shitstorm of rotten luck is to suck it up and show the rest of us how to live?

Inspiring, right?  Moving. Brings a joyful tear to your eye?  Sure it does, but let’s not forget the simple fact that, in the end, this wild-minded legless guy is hurtling down a mountain on a chair, strapped to a mono-ski.

Follow Mr. Calhoun on Twitter here:

 

 

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The Olympics–Volume 1

We got home and rushed to the television last night as quickly as we could after my daughters’ swimming meet–which they crushed, again, thank you very much–kicking the dog out of the way and stepping on both cats in a fervor to get the old set warmed up for…Team Ice Dancing. Hell, yeah.

That fervor was tempered somewhat as the first athlete we saw, an bildeAmerican from Michigan–I won’t increase his shame by actaully naming him, spent an inordinate proportion of his performance skittering sideways across the ice on his ass.  Now, I’m only an ice skating fan for three weeks out of every four years, and I know this Team Ice Dancing thing is new, but I’m pretty confident that ass-skating is not an official, sanctioned event.  Sigh. It’s hard to be an ugly, jaded American.

That’s the kind of jerk I am.  To be honest, I started out being snarky, but it takes a cold soul indeed to watch these kids–and the things they can do with a couple of butter knives duct-taped to their boots–on the ice:  Sow Cows (surprisingly, not a Pig-Cattle hybrid, but just think of the possibilties!  Monsanto?) and Sopwith Camels–normal sized guys throwing muscular tiny women  around like they’re rag dolls–and catching them. Most of the time. I immediately began cheering for the Americans and hoping the other teams would fall and sprain something, a horrific realization undoubtably rooted in my Cold War Youth–you damned kids with your damned walkmans and Ugg boots can’t imagine what it was like, waking up every morning and wondering if today was the day the Russians were going to nuke us into oblivion, our only hope for salvation resting in the hands of Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, and a bunch of cheese-eating high school kids from Colorado.

At that point, skating is the WORST thing in the world–except out comes Yuzuru Hanyusome 70 pound Japanese boy–literally, 70 pounds, this kid absolutely has worms–and pulls off an amazing performance like something from X-Men.  The dude can fly.  As my dad used to say: I shit you not.  Flying.  Without a jet pack. .  Yuzuru Hanyu is his name; breaking the surly bonds of Earth is apparently his game, and 97.98 was his score. I don’t know what the hell that means, but it was a lot. And oh, yes, he’s about 12 years old. Amazing.

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Meryl Davis eyes up the crowd and thinks: Humans, good for pets OR food.
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http://cheezburger.com/3239265792

The couples came on a little later–we didn’t see the Americans skate, which is too bad because I’m absolutely certain that the top American skater is an Alien.  She may be wearing American skin, but underneath is some sort of Avian Space Creature sent here either to protect us or prepare us for our future as a food crop for invaders from the planet Aeriexopeia. She seems really nice–one of the networks ran a TV special Wednesday night on how awesome Olympic athletes are because their parents are so incredibly awesome–and her mom seems nice too, so I’m guessing she’ll lead the fight to save us from the evil, aquatic Humidorians.   I’m not the only one who thinks this.  I’m a little disappointed by that, but…I didn’t say she looks bad, just different and, frankly, the longer I look the cuter she looks.  I hear she doesn’t so much jump but levitate, lingering in the air for seconds at a time because her birth planet has a gravity that is 1.2 of Earth’s–but when she touches down, she skates like an angel.

More Olympics:

https://oldroadapples.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/olympics-volume-2-meryl-takes-out-downton-abbey/