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Roger Marolt: Roger This

Roger Marolt
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

I used to be a Winter Olympics snob. To me the Games were all about tradition, and for a kid who grew up in Aspen, tradition was synonymous with skiing, and skiing meant racing around bamboo poles. The “other kind” of skiing was just recreation, created to pacify the athletically impaired; the gapers who laughed and grunted through moguls and couldn’t keep their tips from crossing in the moguls. Some of them even had a beer with lunch, further proof as to just how lackadaisical they were.

After all, we knew that serious racers saved their alcohol consumption for after training, when they would guzzle enough in the discotheques to kill a moon-booted tourist. Attribute it to superior physical conditioning or built-up tolerance; these were the incredible athletes that deserved every beam from the Olympic spotlight.

Yes, I tolerated the other traditional Winter Olympic events. Hockey was a good game and the fact that we beat the Ruskies at it in 1980 turned out to be more satisfying than the collapse of The Wall. Cross-country skiing was OK. They obviously didn’t quite “get it,” but they trained hard and minded their own business.

Besides, it was important to remember that the roots of real skiing sprouted somewhere on the snow-drifted flats of Norway, where fur-clad people pushed themselves around with poles as they stood on long, slippery boards. And what could you say about figure skating? It had been around forever. The men weren’t yet wearing sequin- and feather-accessorized gladiator costumes, and the network had to show something on television at night.

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The Games were the perfect mixture of sport and spectacle. We certainly didn’t need anything added that might demean what had been deigned from high on Mount Olympus, never mind that snow hasn’t graced its flanks since the last ice age.

So, imagine how I felt in 1992 when freestyle skiing was officially added to the Games at Albertville, France? Until then, to me hot dog skiing was the 1976 Montezuma Tequila Cup event staged on the Ridge of Bell Mountain. It was any silly thing goes in those days. A man skied the mogul course naked and probably would have won first prize had he bothered to register. Insult was added to injury two years later at the Lillehammer Games when freestyle aerials were also added. It wasn’t really skiing at all … and they required participants to wear clothes, but allowed them to be made in neon colors.

Snowboarding came into the fold at Nagano, Japan, in 1998. That made no sense. It was banned on Aspen Mountain. Why should they be able to do it at the Olympics?

All hell broke loose in 2002 as skeleton made a comeback at the Salt Lake City Games. For those who don’t know, skeleton is not a sport. It’s sledding. You run and then leap headlong onto your toboggan, hanging on and screaming until the hill runs out. That’s it!

And, does anybody remember the ridiculous ’80s ski movie, “Hotdog?” I didn’t think so. But apparently it left an impression on the Olympic Organizing Committee. The chaotic scene of everyone in town racing from the top of the ski mountain to the bottom in a race dubbed the “Chinese Downhill” officially became an event in the 2006 Torino games. They called it boardercross.

Finally, as if they hadn’t bastardized the purity of the Winter Olympics enough, this year they are adding skier cross as an official event. Apparently the organizers went back and watched “Hotdog” again and realized that the would-be health care reform activists participating in the Chinese Downhill were actually on skis, and not snowboards as they had simply assumed.

So, could anyone blame me for being steamed that so many fringe sports have watered down the Olympic ideal?

Fortunately, the energy-efficient light bulb in my head, which seemingly takes forever to glow brightly enough to be worth a damn, recently began casting shadows off my lofty principle. I finally realized that my own beloved skiing is itself a fringe sport! It’s not to me, but it is to the rest of the world, and that’s what counts. Did you know that only 3 percent of Americans ski? That’s the same percentage of Canadians who curl. I bet the participation rate for both, along with ice dancing, is even less in Egypt.

And that is the crux of it: The Winter Games are about activities we don’t really understand, but learn about when we get to watch them every four-tenths of a decade. The Games are a trade show for fringe sports put on as a festival. They bring us together out of our elements! If you tell me that you like football, I don’t know any more about you than what I assumed. You tell me that you’re a bobsled nut and now we have something to chat about over a glass of gluvine.

Isn’t that what the Olympics should be about? We don’t need to figure out how much the same we are. That’s boring. That’s online dating. That’s the first 58 minutes of a regular season NBA game. What we really need in order to learn about each other is to discover the passions behind our differences. I like luge. You like short track speed skating. Isn’t it interesting to see that we can use ice for things besides taking the swelling out of pitchers’ rotator cuffs?

So, now I say “right on” with adding as many off-the-wall, out-of-the-halfpipe, and across-the-frozen-tundra sports you can think of to the Winter Games. The more, the merrier! The more the Olympic ideal is achieved! In fact, maybe they should consider dropping hockey to make room for more oddball events. It has become far too mainstream for the Winter Olympics. Then again, maybe it’s only fair to move it into the Summer Games.


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