Many years ago, I had a noon “Tennis Date” with a “club” level tennis player named Peter Vale. On that same day Peter had to play an 8:30 a.m. singles tennis match against the #1 seed and defending champion in the Westchester Country Club Grass Court Championship. The plan was after that very predictable loss Peter would drive to the NYAC for our doubles match. However at noon, Peter never showed up, and only later that afternoon did I understand why.
On the actual first point of the his 8:30 match, the #1 seed, (Peter’s opponent), hit a huge big serve and Peter flailed at and flopped it back into play hitting a short wounded duck of a return shot. The reigning champion #1 seed dashed up to smash the short lob but slipped, fell and somehow fractured his ankle. This resulted with paramedics removing the #1 seed from the court and loading him into the now courtside ambulance. On the scoreboard it said Peter Vale defeats #1 seed, “who retired due to injury.”
This week the 2018 Winter Olympic games have been going on in Pyeongchang, South Korea and every day there are winners, losers, defeated teams and new champions. Some win because they are simply the fastest. Others win because judges decide to grade them the best, and others win based on scoring goals, or other calibrated mechanism of separation within the competition. Then there are other reasons.
The best figure skater over the recent year falls on a jump and the skater not quite as talented wins due to a flawless skate, perhaps with less risk. For that event, he or she is declared the Olympic champion. A great women skier catches an edge and ends up 6th instead of first. Boom! No medal and the headlines say loser. The network talking heads talk of choking, failing to medal, or being unlucky. All this has become upsetting to me because in the Olympics there are competitors with the champions of that day but there are no losers, just amazing talented athletes with the unpredictable outcomes of winter sports.
Watching the TV coverage of the Olympic games is always a mixed bagged. You truly see “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” You watch it all. You witness the ski jumps, along with those vivid ski jump accidents. You can feel the intensity of the ski racer and wince at the violent crashes when they “loose it” on the course and crash at a high speed. Other moments like the curling coverage totally fascinates almost everyone watching what has to be the most bizarre but gaining popularity sport. I even watched some Finland versus Sweden men’s hockey just to hear the announcers fumble through the names.
Part of the price of watching is listening to the banter of the network talking heads who are either former Olympic athletes (who are totally knowledgeable), or the assigned journalist who are not so knowledgeable but under huge contracts to the network. However, it is the magic of competition that makes you watch for hours.
I have many vivid memories of past Winter Olympics. My first memory is of Jean-Claude Killy skiing for France and Peggy Fleming skating during the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. Who can forget the 1980 USA Hockey Olympic victory over the Russian team at Lake Placid, or the drama of Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic games? The actual winner of the Women’s Skating Gold Medal that Olympics was a young Russian named Oksana Baiul.
Then there were the 2002 (Salt Lake City) and 2010 (Vancouver) Olympics which the NHL stars played in and had amazing USA-Canada men’s hockey gold medal finals. Each team won the gold medal final game played in their respected country. Also the emergence of the fierce rivalry of Canadian and American women’s Olympic hockey teams has become very popular.
Yet, in the end, it is the story of the relatively unknown teenager or early 20’s young adults who are delivered from obscurity to world attention after a successful “Gold Medal” winning event. Sadly the networks over promote past “professional Olympic” athletes with their million dollars sponsors way too much. Athletes whose best days are behind them but have commercial contracts with the advertisers/financial supporters of the broadcasts. Yet, new fresh faces emerge and it is wonderful to witness.
In the end, the Winter Olympic Games make great diverse television for the otherwise dull days of February – when so many of us on the East End of Long Island are waiting for spring and summer to arrive. I must confess during the games I put on Olympic gear, sit in front of the TV and root for the USA. It is a good feeling.