Spiritual Games

Spiritual Games

Spiritual Games
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Feb. 14 2002 11:21 AM

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No one's taking my calls, Seth, so I decided to be quiet and watch. As I've said, I've always been drawn more to the Summer than to the Winter Games, but I'm noticing now the beauty of the thing. In the Summer Games, you see sweat and contorted faces and hear the grunting and the footfalls of sprinters. Summer is so obviously about the body, and I don't want to push this too far, but it seems there's something spiritual about winter. The athletes are just as dependent on their bodies, but their bodies are covered in helmets and winter clothing, and so as they glide over ice or sail through air, they become a more pure vision of grace.

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It's kind of like watching a lava lamp, until someone flops. Last night, I was taking in some speedskating, the men's 5,000 relay, and marveling at the quiet style, how the skaters when they hit their strides would clasp their hands behind their backs, like butlers or high-brow waiters. And then of a sudden, a South Korean spilled everything, slamming into the wall like something out of NASCAR, throwing body parts all over my vision of grace. I still don't know if that guy's OK. Seeing the U.S. team win the heat, though, I was happy Apolo Ohno didn't get tossed out of these Olympics.

Did you see Bode Miller defy death? He seems to be the Pete Rose of skiing. Not at all the picture of grace, you know. Says he tends to ignore his coaches, which has resulted in a style that is "definitely not normal." Anyway, the "Gravity Bomb," as they called him, was zipping down the slalom yesterday at about 65 miles an hour, when his skis slipped up and he went down—I mean, the guy's hip touched the ground. If it had happened to any other skier, he probably would have wound up looking like a swatted mosquito. But Miller, being used to ragged moments, saw death at hand and made a quick decision to live. Somehow he popped back up—squatting 400 pounds probably helped with that—finished the run and went on to win silver in the combined. I'm going to look for that guy on a Wheaties box.

About the only fellow I've seen so far who can compete with Bode in the coolness category is that ski jumper Simon Amman. Ski-jumping is just a beautiful sport, I think. Floating into the wind as they do with skis spread and body forward, the athletes resemble birds, or flying squirrels. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them out in the woods, studying technique. Anyway, Amman, I love this guy. He looks like Harry Potter, as Costas said, and just bubbles over with emotion. They showed footage of him doing "a little of that agony of defeat action" just a month ago and the bloody mess it left him in. That sort of accident would rock many athletes and make them reconsider their sport, but Amman's wounds seemed only external and had healed by the time he arrived at these Games. Having never won big, and with nothing to lose but his life, he just let it all hang out, like a bird, for 132 meters. I thought his acceptance speech was exceptionally eloquent: "Yah! Gold! Yah, yah!"

The Olympic spirit, I guess. Speaking of which, Seth, the investigation is finding that Jamie Salé may have had a right to weep.

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I still don't think so.

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.