Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Olympics are done and dusted, and Team America comes home with a perfectly respectable 25 medals. Problem is, America doesn’t want to be respectable. We’d rather be feared for our shock and awe than respected for our poise and decency. So it seems. It certainly wasn’t the respectable Olympians the media used as promotional fodder. Bad boys like the almost inconceivably self-centered Bode Miller, and the equally self-promoting and over-exposed Jeremy Bloom, to name a couple, were ubiquitous in commercials advertising network coverage of The Games, accompanied by the loutish shout-down “USA! USA! USA!” which made the Olympics seem more like a World Wrestling Entertainment event than a world-class showcase for winter sports.

It’s difficult not to draw some parallels between our poor choices in sports heroes and our poor choices in politicians. For The Games the media chose to hype self-indulgent pretty-boy rebels who failed to produce results. Brash, bullying big-mouths who shout down the opposition, but whose shock and awe turns out to be mostly smoke and mirrors. The Bad Boys of the 2006 Games might have left Torino with their tales between their legs, but they may yet have a shot in American politics.

Bode Miller, packaged as an “American maverick” was the biggest flop of ‘em all. I look forward to possibly seeing him excoriated by Oprah ala James Frey. And he’s been asking for it. His take on Torino: “I'm not a martyr, and I'm not a do-gooder. I just want to go out and rock. And man, I rocked here." As clueless as he seems, if Beastie Boy Bode’d brought home a medal or two, wouldn’t we still be stroking him for the ‘tude that garnered him millions in endorsements in the first place? But is the only thing wrong with Bode Miller that he didn’t win? Hmm. If Bode doesn’t end up on “Oprah” he should go out for American Idol, which stomped the Olympics in the ratings. Or why not add “Idol” to the list of Olympic events and be done with it? From skiing, skating and luging to trash-talk, smackdown and “Idol”. The networks would make a killing, that’s for sure.

Of course, I’m as guilty as the next guy of dwelling on Team America’s bad apples, when we have every reason to be proud of those who exemplified the spirit of the games. The inspiring Speedskater Joey Cheek chief among them. He donated the $40,000 from his gold and silver medal bonuses to Right To Play, and is heading off to Zambia to work for the charity group. After his win, Joey told reporters, “I wanted to make it meaningful. It's empowering to think of someone else." Now, that’s the Olympic spirit. So it’s fitting and just that Joey was chosen to bear the US flag at the closing ceremonies. Joey Cheek behaved like a true Olympian, demonstrating that the Olympics is not just about pursuing your dream, it’s about the honor of sharing it with your country and the world.

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