by | Feb 8, 2002 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Cold and old. That’s my answer. When you ask what I’m expecting to feel as I head for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, I can tell you, straight away: cold and old.

Why cold? Because nearly every event is held in a snowdrift, by an ice track or someplace else meant for a penguin.

(The Winter Olympics, while lovely, are, without question, the worst spectator sport in history. The closer you get to an event, the less you see.)

REPORTER 1 (shivering by the Olympic downhill): Is t-t-that the skier from L-L-Liechtenstein? REPORTER 2: I think it’s the chairlift.

This, by the way, is a typical exchange between two “expert” sports writers. We are hopelessly lost in these sports. Most of us haven’t seen a ski jump since that poor slob went flopping on “Wide World Of Sports.”

Q: What is the Nordic combined?

A: Elke Sommer and her sister?

This is a typical sports writer response. Nobody covers Winter Olympic sports full time. Nobody covers them half time. And why? Because they’re COLD, that’s why! What do we look like, YAKS? Oh, sure, once in a while, a newspaper sends a reporter to cover a ski event. And eight years later, it sends another reporter to search for the first guy.

So I know what I am in for. Chattering teeth, freezing wet feet, hand warmers in my pockets and a confused look on my face.

A Brief History Of The Winter Olympics, As Written By A Typical American Sports Writer:

100 B.C.: In ancient Greece, one fierce warrior clubs another over the head with a stick. Hockey is born.1994: Tonya Harding hires a thug to attack Nancy Kerrigan.2002: The Olympics open in Salt Lake.

What? Are we missing something?

Snowboards, strange language and pot

So I’ve told you about the “cold” part, which has a history at the Winter Olympics dating back to the very first Games held in Disney’s Duck Pond in Anaheim, Calif.

Now, about the “old” part. That is relatively new.

It started last Olympics, when I noticed there were a few new events on the schedule, including the halfpipe. I might have known what the halfpipe was, had I known what the McTwist was. I might have known what the McTwist was, had I known what the Michaelchuck, or the Miller Flip, or the Tranny was. These are all parts of snowboarding. That would have cleared it all up, had I known what snowboarding was.

Which is where the “old” comes in. You see, there is a concerted effort to get
“young” people to watch the Winter Olympics, “young” meaning those people the TV networks think are still gullible enough to watch commercials.

So new sports were added, thrilling, speedy sports, like snowboarding, aerial skiing, women’s bobsled and the aptly named “skeleton” — which, after you go down an ice track head first, on a sled, with no brakes, is what they hope to find left of you.

So was rock music at events, and gold medalists who admitted doing a little marijuana here and there, strictly for, you know, motivational purposes.

REPORTER: So, Mad Dog, how does it feel to win the gold? MAD DOG: Dude, I smoked ’em! REPORTER: Your competitors? MAD DOG: Them, too.REPORTER: What is the Nordic combined?

The price of security

This year, I notice, they are having nightly concerts at the Olympics. The bands include Creed, Train, Nelly Furtado, ‘N Sync, Foo Fighters, and numerous others that know what the halfpipe is.

This only serves to make the rest of us — and by the rest of us, I mean people who know Paul McCartney is not a New York City firefighter — feel very old and very tired.

Did I mention the security?

All of us will be frisked, whisked, patted, formatted, searched, scanned and scoped — I believe you can have a colonoscopy performed while in line for the hockey.

But you can never be too careful. And so, reporters and fans will be treated like the terrorists we could be but of course are not. A terrorist would never stand for four hours watching sleds come down a chute.

Now, lest we seem ungrateful for this assignment, let me say that some of my fondest memories are from Winter Olympics. There was the flight out of Albertville, and the flight out of Lillehammer, and the flight out of Nagano .
. .

No. I’m kidding. It’s a wonderful privilege, and I’m sure, if I get too cold, I can find a place to sit inside and get warm, unless it is already occupied by someone who gave a free VCR to an IOC member.

The cold part, I can buy a coat for. I wish it were that easy for the old part. I saw an ad today in an Olympic section that said “Appearing in Salt Lake City this week, Barenaked Ladies.”

And I thought they meant figure skaters.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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