vancouver games

How to Make an Olympian Happy

Aileen Gallagher is writing about the Winter Olympics every weekday for The Sports Section. She is smart.

What was Kelly Clark listening to? As she prepped for her final half-pipe run yesterday by singing along to her iPod boldly and tunelessly, the American bronze medalist exemplified what is unique about women’s snowboarding among winter Olympic events: It’s fun! Boarder after boarder fell in the half-pipe, but none seemed particularly upset about it. Snowboarding is, after all, a direct descendant of skateboarding — that laconic, individual activity that is as much about its concomitant musical, political, and sartorial cultures as it is the actual skating. More than winning, more than wealth, what makes snowboarders happy is snowboarding.

Things were not so relaxed at the Women’s Super Combined. The event has two parts: a downhill and a slalom run. There were fewer downhill crashes than yesterday — thoughtful officials shaved down a problematic jump — but the course was dark and icy early in the day. Wednesday’s gold medalist Lindsey Vonn again skied the fastest time during the downhill portion, but wiped out on the slalom course and didn’t finish. A Czech skier, Sarka Zahrobska, had the best slalom time, but couldn’t surmount a three-second hurdle on the downhill.

Slalom is precision punishment. Off you go down the mountain, making tight, controlled turns, all while being lashed in the face by gates. It takes a special sort of skier to endure that, and she was, of course, German. Maria Riesche won gold, tentatively celebrating a victory sealed by her friend Vonn’s crash. American Julia Mancuso took the silver, a day after she won the same medal in the downhill. Swiss skier Anja Paerson snared the bronze, working her battered body down the mountain following a particularly violent crash in Wednesday’s downhill. Take that for singularity of purpose, snowboarders!

NBC tried to portray Men’s Figure Skating as a Nike commercial last night, but don’t worry — it’ll still take months to work all that glitter out of the carpets in the Athlete’s Village. It could be our Olympic fatigue, but the first batch of skaters were almost dull. The dissonant music choices were no help, though Denis Ten of Kazahkstan somehow captured our old upstairs neighbor’s creepy Saturday night drunken falsetto.

When you can’t tell your lutz from your salchow, there are always costumes to ogle. Canadian Patrick Chan wore what amounted to a blingy catcher’s chest protector, and Takahiko Kozuka glittered a Bluetooth earpiece to the side of his face. Oda Nobunari was the only skater who didn’t shimmer, and not only did he look like a waiter in his tuxedo, but he also had to stop mid-performance to fix a broken skate lace. Do not offend the glistening gods.

Did Johnny Weir borrow his outfit from Olympic roommate Tanith Belbin? Not to take detract from his abilities, but that top was begging for some cleavage. However, he did demonstrate that his skating is to be taken seriously, even if he is not. (The crown of roses he donned while waiting for his score simultaneously hurt and helped his case.) As in the short program, the crowd thought the judges scammed Weir, and he finished in sixth place.

American Evan Lysacek wrestled successfully with the sparkling serpent on his top and was the night’s only real rival to Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. Plushenko wore the ice skating version of the tuxedo T-shirt, an outfit that would have been ironic if irony were allowed in figure skating. The Russian can jump, but the last minute of his program was too reminiscent of Riverdance for our taste, as well as the judges’.

Lysacek channeled Monet and Ali on the ice, and it was this melding of the artist and the jock that secured his well-earned gold medal. The skater turned three shades hotter as he processed the results, and his response was the good old American, “Noooo … waaay!”

Way, Evan. Way!

What to Watch This Weekend

Ice Dancing (Only if you have the sniffles, and not if you are hung-over.)
Men’s Super G
Women’ Super G
Speed Skating, Men’s 1,500 meter
Short Track Skating: Women’s 1,500 meter
Short Track Skating: Men’s 1,000 meter

How to Make an Olympian Happy