by | Feb 12, 1994 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

LILLEHAMMER, Norway — As this might be the last column I ever write, I want to get everything down. I have been chosen for a dangerous task. I am a heartbeat away from the riskiest job in the Olympics.

I am the backup-backup torchbearer.

Hey. I saw it on the job board. It paid five bucks an hour. I figured, easy money, they’ll never use me. Maybe, maybe, the first guy gets the chicken

pox (see: Michigan basketball team), and they have to go to the backup. But the odds of getting to the backup-backup? Zero, right?

Yeah, except in Norway (translation: “frozen brains”), where they decided to spice up the opening ceremonies by making the torchbearer carry the torch
— and I’m not kidding here — down a ski jump! Yes. He is to soar through the air, land in the snow and hand the torch to a Norwegian prince. It is “the crowning spectacle” of the opening ceremonies.

Assuming the jumper survives.

The first choice, someone named Ole Gunnar Fidjestol — who I believe is a distant relative of that guy on the “Wide World of Sports” opening — is already gone. The other day, during a practice run — practice, mind you! — Ole came flying off the jump and went splat! (Translation: splat!)

His picture, showing him lying sideways in the snow, unconscious, as a crowd of curious Norwegians stood over him (“Look, Sven, a dead ski jumper, how precious”), was beamed over the international wires, with the headline

It should have read: “Next?” We’re behind you, Stein

With No. 1 gone, they turned to No. 2, Stein Gruben, a 26- year-old Norwegian who vows to do what Ole Gunnar Fidjestol (translation: “too much wax”) could not do. Survive the jump and light the torch. As I am No. 3, I am rooting hard for No. 2. I am rooting for him like I root for my heart to keep pumping.

Says the confident Gruben: “I will succeed. Ski jumping is not as difficult as it looks.”

Especially if you drink as much cough syrup as Stein does.

(By the way, jumper No. 1, Ole Gunnar Fidjestol, is resting comfortably in the hospital, where he was visited by International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch. The sympathetic president grasped Ole’s hand, leaned over and whispered, “You’re fired.”)

Anyhow, I think we should all put our hands together and say a big prayer for Stein Gruben, especially since, if he goes down, they’re coming after me. In the meantime, I will bring you up to date on the latest news here in Lillehammer, as quickly as I can, from inside this closet:

NEW NATION ADDED: Thailand has joined the Winter Games, just in time for the opening ceremonies. Its late entry was blamed on the time it took to translate the word “Winter,” which Thailand does not actually have. Thailand joins fellow Olympic nations Bermuda, Fiji, Cyprus and the Virgin Islands, whose official team slogan is “Cripes! It’s freezing!”

FOOD UPDATE: The Norwegian version of the hamburger is the oxburger, made from, surprise, ox. Interestingly, the sandwich was not named after the American equivalent, but rather after John Candy’s character in the movie
“Stripes,” Dewey Oxburger, who mud-wrestles women in a bar. Candy is a hero in Norway because, as one local said, “He is all man, ja?”

Sure. Let’s see him do the ski jump. He shot an arrow into the air . . .

This brings me back to my “job” — I can’t get this out of my mind — and as I lay here, in this closet, under the carpet, I must comment on the dangerous precedent being set by these Olympic opening ceremonies.

Once upon a time, all they did was get some famous ex- athlete, usually around 60 years old, and had him climb about 900 stairs and pass out. Then some kid took the torch and lit the flame, the president said, “Let the Games begin!” and they carried the ex-Olympian away in an ambulance.

This was a fine tradition. But lately, the Olympics have gotten into a
“Can You Top This?” thing with the flame. You recall the Barcelona Games of 1992, where an archer shot a flaming arrow into the torch? This was a huge success because the torch lit, and no deaths were reported.

We later found out, however, that the archer had overshot by 30 feet. I’m not making this up. Fortunately, there was a secret backup ignition for the torch. Probably some man in a room with a button marked “Flame: on/off.”

Meanwhile, the actual arrow, I believe, landed in a Spanish cornfield and destroyed next year’s crop. This went widely unreported. So I am concerned that — should Stein Gruben go down and I must make the jump — the same fate will await me. Unreported. Unrepentant.

And I probably won’t get my five bucks.

So as I await the opening ceremonies, down here, in the closet, under the carpet, in this locked wine cellar, I must say that Norway seems well prepared

for these Games, and my personal prayers go out to all the athletes, and especially Mr. Stein Gruben. May the wind be at his feet. May he soar like an eagle. May h–




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