Archive for skeleton

To Bob the Impossible Bob

Posted in Olympics with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by drawesomeness

While the rest of Canada was watching that snoozefest of a hockey game between Canada and Russia, I was immersed in the real marquee event of the winter Olympics – “Women’s Two-Person Bobsleigh.” Sure, you might have caught the very last couple of runs in which Whatshername and WhosIt from Canada took down the gold medal, followed close behind by ThatotherCanadianwoman and Thatotherotherone, who won silver. But let’s be honest, you weren’t watching during the third heat to see how it all led up to this thrilling conclusion. You didn’t see the spectacular crashes (and there were several), you didn’t see the emotion, and you didn’t see the bravery of those women in Canada1 and Canada2 who left it all on the course despite the dangers. You certainly didn’t see Team Ireland zip to a respectable 17th place. Or the Romanians glide to a heroic 15th place. And you probably didn’t see this:

I'm getting too old for this.

This waterslide sucks!

Which, once everyone was determined to be okay, was totally awesome.

I know, I know. A zillion jokes have been made about sliding sports. I’ll let Mr. Seinfeld sum up the main ones.

But honestly, they’re easy targets. The bobsled, luge, and skeleton are definitely the Leap Year of the sporting world – they’re only relevant once every four years, and even then people talk about them for only a couple of days. Awww, am I being unfair? Okay, right now in your head, name five bobsledders. Any five. Okay, Pierre Leuders. That’s one. Four more. Any four? And no, Leon from Cool Runnings doesn’t count.

For those of you who still think I’m being harsh, I guess I’ll see you all in the stands at the 2011 World Cup of bobsleigh in Cesana, Italy. At the very least you’ll buy a subscription to ESPN 9 so you can watch all the sliding action, won’t you? Should be sick.

My point is that many of us only care about some of these fringe sports for a very brief window because of their association with the Olympics. But they’re truly exciting to watch. When Jon Montgomery won the gold medal in men’s skeleton last week in dramatic fashion, I was jumping out of my chair, shouting at the screen. “We’re #1, we’re #1.” That dude’s going to be on Oprah, by the way.

I have the power!!!!!!!!

Clearly these athletes have trained hard and they are really amazing at what they do. But I’ll be honest – when I’m watching one run after another, they all look like they’re doing the exact same thing. I cannot, for the life of me, discern a good run from a bad run. I can’t tell what the good sliders are doing right and what the slower sliders are doing wrong – unless they completely flip over the sled (that, I suspect, would be wrong). I just look at the times and if the fastest times match up with the Canadian flag, I’m happy.

But the real mystery to me is how these sliders figure out that they’re good at this. Growing up we are exposed to most of the mainstream winter sports and we can quickly determine who is gifted and who isn’t. Hockey, skiing, skating, etc. We give them all a shot and 99.99% of us eventually realize we’ll never come close to being one of the best in the world, let alone in the top three. But then there are some who have a knack for one of these activities and they train hard for most of their lives with the dream of one day winning an Olympic medal. Now, call me crazy but this isn’t how it works in sliding sports. Show me the gold medal luger who tells the reporter after her gold-winning run:

“This is a lifelong dream fulfilled. Ever since I first sat in my dad’s lap on that Krazy Karpet when I was 6 months old, I knew I had a gift for this sport. So I practiced and I practiced. While my friends were going to hockey practice, I was going to the local park where I would slide for hours. The kids with GT Snowracers would laugh at me, sliding on my back on a flimsy cookie sheet. But I knew better. I knew there’s no gold in GT Snowracers. But there’s gold in luging. And I luged my ass off today. And now I’m the one wearing gold. Where are they now? Probably working as teachers, or lawyers, or store clerks….Me? I’m a store clerk.”

Show me that gold medal luger and I’ll show you the heart and determination of the men’s Russian hockey team (hint: it doesn’t exist!)

I’m also curious how they figure out that they’re better lugers than skeletoners and vice versa: “I tried luge and I was slower than molasses. But once I flipped over I was setting course records. Physics be damned! I’m a terror on my belly!”

Want to know when Jon Montgomery first tried skeleton? Eight years ago. He’s currently 30 years old. In 2002 he happened to work beside Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, gave it a shot, and 8 years later he is the best skeleton dude in the world. Would Malcolm Gladwell call him an outlier? Who cares. Go Canada!