MERIBEL, France — I am looking for an enemy.
I am taking applications. I am knocking on doors. I am walking through the Olympic Village, waving the American flag, approaching foreign athletes and saying, “How’d you like a shot at the title, fellas?”
“Mrshmheyejlp?” they say.
I walk on.
I am looking for the Olympics. The old Olympics. When there was a Good Guy and a Bad Guy, Capitalism versus Communism, America versus the Soviet Union, or, if the Soviets fell down, East Germany. The old Olympics.
I am looking for a team to hate. I am looking for that kind of clarity. When America played the Soviets, you knew where you stood: If they won, they cheered, “ALL HAIL COMMUNISM!” while we went home and said they were blood-doped.
And if we won, we cheered “USA! USA!” while they burned all the evidence.
Those were the good old days. But now? There is no satisfaction in picking on the Soviet Union, because there is very little left to pick on. How can you hate a country when you don’t even know what to call it?
Let’s see. There’s Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, none of which we can hate, because we have no idea where they are.
And then there’s the rest of the former Soviet Union, which now competes under something called “Unified Team.” I’m not sure how unified it is, because its initials are sometimes CIS and sometimes EUN. They should be WHO? It consists of, and I am not making this up, 119 Russians, 10 Ukrainians, seven Kazakhs, three Belarussians and two Uzbeks.
I defy you to hate an Uzbek.
Actually, I feel sorry for the ex-Soviets. They have no flag, no team logo, they don’t even have a national anthem anymore. Remember the old Soviet anthem? It was like Darth Vader music. It scared the hell out of you.
Now, they stand to the Olympic hymn. The only person that scares is a piano student. It’s hard to hate Sweden
So I am searching for an enemy. A new rival. I thought I had one Monday night, when the U.S. played Sweden in hockey. But let’s face it. How long can you hate a Swede?
It’s true, they did throw a nasty check early in the game, which left an American player bloody and dazed. Unfortunately, the check was thrown by Mats Naslund, who probably learned it in the NHL, where he played for years and won the Lady Byng trophy.
Hey. You try hating Lady Byng. It ain’t easy.
To make matters worse, the game ended in a tie. What kind of rivalry ends in a tie?
Remember when Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union “an evil empire”? Now there was a slogan you could rally around. You can hear the coach in the locker room before the game: “Men, tonight you’re not just playing sports, you’re playing to destroy an EVIL EMPIRE.”
What’s a coach to say before a game with Sweden? “Men, if you win tonight,
WE’LL NEVER HAVE TO WATCH AN INGMAR BERGMAN FILM AGAIN!”
That’ll fire ’em up.
Alas. In the New World Order, this is what we are reduced to: trying to make Sweden our enemy. Even when we had a chance, we blew it. After the game, the U.S. coach, Dave Peterson — we like to call him Mr. Entertainment — refused to shake hands with the Swedish coaches, presumably because he was still angry over that check.
Later, in the press conference — which Peterson began by growling, “Let’s get this over with” — the Swedish assistant coach came in, walked up to Peterson, and offered his hand in congratulations. Peterson ignored him. Acted as if the guy wasn’t there. In front of all these people.
As I result, I came out hating someone. Unfortunately, it was Peterson.
And that has been done before. Seven secrets to being loathed
So what’s left? We can’t hate the Austrians. They win all the medals, then disappear, presumably to yodel. We can’t hate the Japanese, because, outside of tiny Midori Ito — a pogo stick on skates — they have few athletes to challenge for medals. Someone suggested Norwegians as new rivals, and someone suggested the Finns. Then someone said, “What’s the difference?”
So much for Norwegians and Finns.
“Anybody?” I say, as I walk through the village, handing out forms.
Here is my list of rival qualifications:
1) Must speak different language.
2) Must wear boots, even in summertime.
3) Skating judges must look like Bea Arthur.
4) And wear boots.
5) Must have system of fake amateurism.
6) Must have at least one cute little gymnast or figure skater who we all know would love to defect if only she had the chance.
7) Nuclear weapons.
Surely someone will heed my call. Surely there is some nation out there ready to play in the big ring. Make the cover of TIME! Get high ratings on U.S. TV! Send all applications to: Dave Peterson, c/o U.S. Olympic Team, Albertville, France.
If he doesn’t answer, you’re on your way.