Bad Losers Make Good Theater

Bad Losers Make Good Theater

Bad Losers Make Good Theater
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Feb. 13 2002 11:33 AM

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This shocks even me. I'd assumed the fire was gas logs, and to learn that we're talking here about a broadcast of a plastic man sitting in front of a videotape of a fire, talking about the games that people play—this makes me feel very cold, Seth, and not too important.

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The world is indeed a sad, sad place, but isn't it delightful to watch people learn that? They accept it in different ways. The best losers, I think, are those who have already earned the respect they need, or who came to their sports not so much to earn respect as to be entertained. So Picabo Street, who won her medals years ago, did a fine job yesterday of losing the women's downhill: "I gave it all I had. It wasn't enough for a medal, but it's a beautiful day and an American crowd, and I couldn't have asked for more."

And then maybe filling the second category, there was that guy in the moguls yesterday who went flying into the air only to land in an awful heap. When the reporter found him later happily watching from the sidelines, she asked about his thoroughly destroyed knee. He said he hadn't really planned to use that knee again anyway, that he had a wife and a new baby, and was going to give up skiing and focus on them now. Oh, I do wish I could remember that guy's name. I tried to find it in the paper today, but he's a loser, you know, and it wasn't there. He's been forgotten already.

Having said all that, I think bad losers make better theater and that I have become a figure-skating fan. So have a lot of people, it seems. The ratings for these Olympics are up 25 percent over Nagano, and figure-skating is said to be a reason. These guys are killers, the toughest athletes at the games, I think. There was that woman days ago, another forgotten loser, who skated on a broken foot. And there was that weird rivalry between Yagudin and Plushenko (Yagudin: "We kind of hate each other"), which Yagudin put to rest last night. But mostly it's Jamie Salé and David Pelletier who have brought me to the sport. She sobbed when she lost, and now the Canadians have asked for an investigation into it, and people are saying the French judge "worked a deal" with the Russians, and remembering the Ukrainian judge from Nagano who listed the winners before the competition began. ESPN is calling it SkateGate, and Salé is getting more sympathetic press than she ever would have if she'd won, and her agent is getting calls, and talk is she might get rich from all this. This is great stuff, isn't it? I'm thinking Vince McMahon may have an expansion opportunity here.

Randall Patterson's work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Sports Illustrated, and The Best American Sports Writing 1999. He lives in Asheville, N.C. Seth Stevenson raced for his high school's cross-country ski team ... but he sucked, and mostly just did it on a dare. He now writes for Slate.