How To Watch the Winter Olympics

How To Make Snowboard Cross Even More Awesome
Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 17 2006 11:41 AM

How To Watch the Winter Olympics

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Troy,

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the Olympic torch has been passed to a new generation of athletes—born in the 1980s, tempered by the Winter X Games.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Shortly after the snowboard cross heats began, two different friends got in touch with me, unprovoked, just to say how much they were grooving on this new event. Indeed, it rocks. Close quarters bumping and maneuvering, crazy turns and jumps, and a new heat starting every two minutes or so. It's like roller derby on snow. This is a winter sport I can get stoked about—while luge, bobsleigh, and alpine skiing all suddenly feel outdated and lusterless. No doubt, snowboard cross is the breakout hit of Torino.

My only suggestion is that they should permit not just "incidental" contact, but also "violent, mean-spirited" contact. Also, weapons. Some of the boarders should be issued bicycle chains, while others get two-by-fours with nails sticking out. One guy should get a bazooka. Basically, I want it to look as much as possible like SSX Tricky—one of my all-time favorite video games.

So, I watched the male figure-skating programs, and I came to this conclusion: Skating has a split-identity problem. Is it an athletic competition about executing difficult jumps? Or is it a dramatic performance about emotion and bizarre arm gestures?

Plushenko seems to split the difference with a Jekyll-and-Hyde approach. He looks quite comfortable making those huge spinning leaps, but then between his jumps he puts on an awkward "passion" mask and starts flitting his hands about, arching his back, and lowering his eyelids in rapture. It feels false and weirdly divorced from the world of sport. Imagine the half-pipe snowboarders pausing midway down their run, performing a series of half-assed, overwrought dance moves (replete with jazz hands), and then resuming their shredtastic tricks. This will never happen, with good reason.

Luge versus skeleton: I'm not sure they could butt helmets, because the lugers always lead with their feet. I think you're on to something with your idea about a personality divide, though. The lugers are by nature passive, lying back as the world flies by at frightening speed. The skeleton racers, by contrast, dive head-first into the action, eager to see what thrilling twists and turns await them.

Skeleton also has a wicked rad name. They could have just called it "prone luge" or something, but instead they got dark and badass. Point skeleton.

We've had fun watching these games, Troy, but apparently we're the only ones. The Nielsen ratings have crossed their ski-tips and taken a Lindsey Kildow-like tumble. American Idol and Grey's Anatomy both trounced NBC's Olympic offerings. Even House nearly tied the Olympic viewership!

I predict that next week NBC will pull all sorts of ratings stunts. They'll prod the female figure skaters to tongue-kiss each other. They'll force the ski-jumpers to eat maggots on camera. They'll award a gold medal to any athlete who can pick the correct briefcase from an identical array. Is there some means by which Johnny Weir and Seth Westcott might be marooned on a tropical island together?

Crassly,
Seth

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