How To Watch the Winter Olympics

My New Favorite Sport: Snowboard Cross
Scenes from the Olympics.
Feb. 17 2006 11:41 AM

How To Watch the Winter Olympics

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Seth Wescott wins men's snowboard cross

Seth—

It's our last day of Monday-morning quarterbacking—or, I suppose, Friday-morning skipping—and we've got some loose ends to tie up. First, it is time to return to your theories of Olympian facial hair and to compare the landing strip adorning Apolo Anton Ohno's chin (conceptually ambitious but sleazily at odds with his baby face) with Seth Wescott's neatly tended, no-nonsense dot, the "business casual" of soul-patches.

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Wescott, as I hope you saw last night, made a brilliant pass coming out of the seventh turn of the finals and won the USA a gold medal in the Olympic premiere of snowboard cross. More impressively yet, to judge by NBC's profile and post-race interview, he is beyond manly, without fear, and peerlessly connected with nature, a kind of hybrid of Henry David Thoreau and Dale Earnhardt. When he is not snowboarding, he is up in Maine, chopping wood and building himself a house with his own bare hands. To sharpen his wits, he takes little snowboarding jaunts to Alaska. Yesterday, viewers repeatedly watched footage of an avalanche happening around Wescott while he nonchalantly went about his business. (You can watch the avalanche footage here, by clicking on the video tab.)

Snowboard cross itself was a revelation, exhilarating, a No. 1 debut. It's like a Mountain Dew commercial directed by David Lean: Four snowboarders simultaneously negotiate a twisting 900-meter course, taking jumps, taking spills. The announcers kept telling us that "incidental contact is allowed," neglecting to mention that "incidental" means one thing when you're pushing a shopping cart around the A&P and another when you're negotiating curves at 40 mph. There was plenty of material to feed your crash habit. Any favorite collisions?

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

In other news, both Yevgeny Plushenko, shrewdly, and Johnny Weir, to his peril, played it safe in the men's figure-skating long program. NBC's producers had done a masterly job of yanking at the heartstrings with their story of Plushenko's childhood in drabbest Volgograd and the move to St. Petersburg at age 11 that split up his family. The skater did not quite play along. He accepted his gold medal with stoicism, his pride muted, his mouth not curling into a smile until the end of the anthem. Meanwhile, Swiss silver medalist Stephane Lambiel burbled like the Rhône.

And then there was the women's skeleton, an event that seems about twice as awesome as the luge just by dint of its being a head-first affair. Do lugers and skeleton racers represent the two types of people in the world? If so, what's the salient difference? Do they get along just swell within the Olympic Village, or do they ever butt helmets?

Wonderingly,
Troy

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