CALGARY, Alberta — We lost.
The Soviets won.
Everybody wore cowboy hats.
That’s a wrap, folks. Thanks for coming. The XV Winter Olympics may not have been fun, but they were long. And how about those Finns? Hell of a team, huh? Don’t laugh. They got more medals than we did.
What did we do to deserve these Games? Shoot somebody? As a journalist, the Olympic experience went like this: Fly in, sign up, freeze to death. Then take all your clothing to the Olympic laundry, so you can experience the Games the way the ancient Greeks did: naked.
But heck. You don’t want to hear this. You want to hear about THE GAMES, the competition, the thrill of victory. Well. You’ll have to ask the East Germans about that. Victory wasn’t high on our list. Trivia. Trivia was high on our list. These, after all, were the Winter Olympics that welcomed Guam, snow capital of the North Pacific, the Olympics that heard a Polish hockey player claim he unknowingly swallowed steroids at a cocktail party. One day, years from now, history will look back on these Games and say: “Ugh.”
YOUR PASSWORD TO THE CALGARY OLYMPICS:
Yes. Hopeless was good here. Hopeless was profitable. If you came from Jamaica, and you never saw snow, and you rolled down in a bobsled on your head
— ta-da! You were hopeless. You were a hit! You sold 10,000 sweatshirts and bought a condo in Kingston. In the year 2000, we will have forgotten Bonnie Blair, Tomas Gustafson and Vreni Schneider (we may have forgotten them already). But we will still remember Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards.
“He was that ugly guy, ski jumper, wasn’t he, Doris?”
“Yeah. He looked like a can opener.”
“That guy cracked me up.”
“Wonder where he is?”
So OK. It is time to put this all in perspective. Time to lick the envelope on these cowboy Games. What do you say? Bobsleds, curling, Tomba, Willie Gault, Debi dips, Dan dunks, chinook, chinook, chinook-chinook-chinook. Hey, USA TODAY, official cheerleader of the XV Winter Games. Here’s your headline for tomorrow:
THE PROBLEM WITH AMERICA.
Well, OK. We don’t really stink. But we don’t exactly glow. As an American, this was a good Olympics to be French. How many medals did we wind up with? Six? Don’t you get that many for sending in your application? The last time we won fewer medals was at the 1936 Games, when they had, I think, two sports, and European nations didn’t compete, because there were tanks rolling across their lawns.
Six medals? Two gold, one silver, three bronze? No one said we were supposed to be kings of the luge track. But we have a few mountains. We have a few ski slopes. We have a few hockey players and a few coaches milking a few students at a few ice skating rinks around the country. You’d think we could get somebody to stand up straight.
Instead, the catch phrase for America was “bottoms up.” We had skiers falling and speed skaters falling and figure skaters falling. Some of them had good reasons. (Dan Jansen, who lost his sister to leukemia; Pam Fletcher, who got blindsided on the slopes.) And some of them did not.
QUESTION: Name the four American male skiers in Saturday’s Olympic slalom.
ANSWER: 1. Did not finish. 2. Did not finish. 3. Did not finish. 4. Did not finish.
Hey. Guys. Slalom, not Slidem. The way we skied, you’d think Denver had the elevation of New Jersey. Medal count on mountain: zero. Medal count in woods and with guns: zero.
This, however, was minor news.
Debi Thomas was MAJOR news. True, we were already in the toilet by the time Thomas skated her free program Saturday night. But a gold medal in women’s figure skating might have sent us home smiling, particularly because
“our Debi” was skating against the ice princess herself, Katarina Witt, who represented all that was evil in these Games, namely that East Germany was winning, and we weren’t.
Alas. Debi had the gold medal in her skates, and she stepped on it. Stomped that sucker flat. One slip. Another slip. Two more slips. Debi is a nice kid. Debi is a sweet kid. Debi choked.
“After I missed the first jump, I just wanted to get off the ice,” she said later. Great. That’s the American fighting spirit? Poor Debi. She apologized to her coach as she skated past him during the routine. Understandable. She was supposed to be skating to “Carmen.” She looked more like Jerry Lewis in “The Geisha Boy.”
Said Jutta Muller, Witt’s coach: “I couldn’t tell if Debi was skating to
‘Carmen’ or ‘Swan Lake.’ “
Yo. Jutta. We’ll make the jokes, OK? THE TRIVIAL OLYMPICS.
So what does a country of 250 million people do when its athletes are finishing behind Portugal’s? Scramble for the corners. Dig out the most unusual, hapless weirdo and make him a star. If they’re gonna trash us, we’re gonna trivialize them.
You know whom we’re taking about. What kind of Olympic wrap-up can you have without Eddie Edwards, Great Britain’s lonely ski jumper, the only man here to do Johnny Carson while the Games were still in progress? Sure, the bobsledders from Mexico did their best. And so did the Puerto Rican luger, and the biathlete from Guam, who fell in the snow and ripped the skin off his face. Nice try, G-man. But in the trivial Olympics, Eddie reigned supreme. That jaw. Those Coke bottle glasses. Blind in one eye, afraid of heights, a natural-born klutz. Sure. Send the guy off the ski jump. I would.
And listen. Eddie Edwards will make more money from these Olympics than any gold medalist, save Italy’s Alberto Tomba (whom we will get to in a minute). And what pressure! Only finishing last would serve Eddie’s legend, and he was going against the very tough Spanish jumper.
He did not disappoint. Dead last in the 70 meters. Dead last in the 90 meters. He came off the jump like a toaster oven comes off the counter. The crowd chanted, “ED-DIE!” He waved his hands and poked himself in the eye.
His is an Olympic success story, just begging to be told.
But not here. FIVE JOBS DAVE PETERSON CAN GET NOW THAT HIS DAYS AS U.S. OLYMPIC HOCKEY COACH ARE OVER:
2. Figure skater.
3. Counselor in a juvenile house of correction.
4. Whatever Lou Vairo used to be doing.
5. Traffic cop.
Yes. We’re into the personalities part of our discussion. And why not start with Peterson, because he has no personality. The failure of the American hockey team didn’t jolt people half as much as this guy, who proved that being in high schools for 27 years prepares you no better for life than being there for four.
What an ass. Peterson snarled his way onto everybody’s hit list, while creating a team that has the unusual distinction of being criticized by the president of the entire International Olympic Committee: “They have no cohesion and no co-ordination,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, about the U.S team. “It’s run and shoot, run and shoot.”
Thank you, Juan. Next time you’re in town, we’ll go to an NBA game.
Peterson. Samaranch. George Steinbrenner. I put these guys in the “Geeks of the Games” category.
But where are the HEROES?
GOLD: Alberto Tomba, Italy — My personal vote for Big Guy In Calgary goes to Italy’s “La Bomba,” who set the Olympic record for fluffing his own hair during post-ski celebration. He was carried off the slopes by his Italian fans after gold medals in the slalom and giant slalom. A Ferrari, it was said, was on the way. “I am so fast,” Tomba once told a reporter, “I maybe stop to make love to a woman on the way down, and still win.”
I’d pay to see that.
SILVER: Brian Boitano, United States. Leave it to a figure skater to be everything our bobsledders and hockey players were not. Boitano gave America some identity with his gold medal, although a few questions remain. On the one hand, we have a male skater who is known for strong athletic moves. On the other hand, we have a thin young man who celebrated the news of his victory by hugging a fellow skater in the bathroom.
BRONZE: Prince Albert of Monaco — Not only did he form the team, buy the sleds, hire the coaches and fly them, but he showed great courage and spirit. Also he paid me to say this.
And now, a few random selections:
WINNERS WHO WERE LOSERS, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY: Katarina Witt; Pirmin Zurbriggen; Matti Nykanen; and any of those Soviet woman cross-country skiers. Now I know why biathletes carry guns.
LOSERS WHO WERE WINNERS, I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU SAY: The Mexican bobsled team; Midori Ito, the little Japanese figure skater; and Paul and Isabelle Duchesnay, who did that “hot monkey love” program at the ice dancing finals. They used to call rock ‘n’ roll jungle music, too, you know. ABC.
Well. What can we say about the TV network that brought you these wonderful Games except this: SUCCCKKKERRRRRRS! Three hundred and nine million? They paid $309 million for the rights to this stuff? Nice going, guys. Does this mean we won’t have to watch “Mr. Belvedere” for a while?
By the way, those of us in Calgary got to watch both ABC and CTV (the Canadian network) broadcast these Games. It was not hard to tell the difference: CTV ON OLYMPIC HOCKEY:
ANNOUNCER NO. 1: Well, there’s a pass to the Russian center. Nice pass, eh?
ANNOUNCER NO. 2: I thought so. Here comes another one. Beauty, eh?
ANNOUNCER NO. 1: Yep. ABC ON OLYMPIC HOCKEY:
AL MICHAELS: And with that pass let’s go back to the studio.
KEITH JACKSON: Thanks, Al, you old hoss. How about that aerial skiing at Olympic Park, Tim?
TIM McCARVER: Thanks, Keith. This is a thrill! Look at them spill! Back to you, Jim.
JIM McKAY: Thanks, Sam. The Olympic . . . uh . . . to . . . where . . . so, you won’t want to miss that. Now let’s join Ed at the hockey. Tom?
AL MICHAELS: Here’s the replay of the four goals you missed while we were away, including the game-winner!
But enough about its good points. There was plenty wrong with the way ABC handled itself here, beginning with the fact that it ruled the schedule, and ending with the way it handled tragedy, namely the death of Dan Jansen’s sister. The bloodsuckers never missed a chance to capture tears on tape — be they Jansen’s, his family’s or anyone else’s. Just once I’d like to see somebody punch out an ABC cameraman. Please.
Then do Dick Button, who can take his “special” moments and put them in a special place, if you get my drift. But wait. The kingpin of all, the real sleaze, the guy we shoot at dawn, is the figure skating dupe, David Santee, who had the ridiculous job of shoving a microphone in the face of skaters who had just fallen five times in front of a billion viewers. When an anxious Brian Orser was awaiting his marks, wondering whether he had won the gold medal, Santee began with the most infamous line of the Games: “Brian, I have good news and bad news. . . . “
Hey! It’s Mr. Sensitivity!
But can we just blame ABC? No. We must blame the Winter Olympics themselves, which continue to grow, but in all the wrong places. It’s very nice that we had a record 57 nations this time. But I don’t know how important it was to get Puerto Rico, or Guam. Especially because their teams consist of Americans who couldn’t make a U.S. squad during a civil war.
And look at the sports they’re starting to let in! Short track speed skating? Freestyle skiing (in which grown men actually ski down a hill and pirouette. I kid you not). And curling. Oh, my. Did you know a 15-year-old girl was America’s star curler? Now I don’t know about you. But if my kid’s 15? I don’t let her curl. I don’t let her blow-dry.
Who needs all this? Not the United States. The fact is, any of the supposedly “big” stories of these Olympics wouldn’t even make the agate of a sports section any other time of year. A ski jumper? A speed skater? On the front page? Whoa. You answer the phones in the office.
Did someone say controversy?
Sure, there was controversy. Willie Gault screwed up everybody by trying to hone in on the bobsled team. And speed skater Erik Henriksen, at last look, was suing his U.S. federation for a mere $1 million, which is probably as much money as speed skating has seen since 1937. How’s that for controversy?
We did have the question of what would happen to the 90- meter ski jump if it had to be canceled beyond the closing ceremonies. Calgary said: “No problem, stick around, love to have ya, can we recommend a restaurant?”
Samaranch said: “When I close the Games, they are finished.”
A word here about Calgary:
You get the idea? Don’t ask me what kind of town it is anymore. AND NOW, FINALLY, A FEW OLYMPIC MOMENTS
I rank these as “special,” in no particular order: ABC’s interview with Dr. Ruth; the day it was 64 degrees; the accreditation of Royal Canadian Mountie police dogs; luge; the $1 billion these Games cost; Liz Manley; watching a Korean figure skater named Gang Ho crash into the boards; the Soviet hockey team; Bonnie Blair’s outfits; the 12-year-old who lit the torch; Frank Gifford telling a newspaper he met his wife, Kathie Lee, when he noticed her “staring at my tush.”
Now, that’s special.
But the best, I think, came Saturday night, during the women’s figure skating, when a little-known Belgian skater named Katrien Pauwels fell during a spin toward the end of her program. Instead of scrambling shamelessly to her feet, she figured, heck, I’m down here anyhow, why not? And she just continued to spin, on her butt, until the music ended.
The judges marked her down. But I didn’t. The woman showed good sense. And so can we. Yes, America lost these Olympics. Yes, we came home with six medals. Yes, we wasted hours watching small men in sequins leaping in the air. So what?
As Katrien might have said: We showed up, didn’t we? What else do you want?
CUTLINE U.S. speed skater Bonnie Blair shows off her gold medal (500 meters) and bronze medal (1,000 meters) at a press conference Sunday. East German figure skater Katarina Witt shows off her gold medal after the presentation ceremonies Saturday night.