Olympics Report: Smokin’ the Half-Pipe

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They keep adding events to the Olympics. This is to ensure that no matter how closely you follow the Games, there will always be something unusual to baffle you, similar to how the Utah Department of Transportation likes to close freeway offramps for no discernible reason. It keeps an air of unpredictability about the proceedings.

At the 1998 Winter Olympics we were introduced to curling, an allegedly ancient sport that was invented a few years ago by Canadian senior citizens who wanted a way to play shuffleboard on ice. It narrowly beat out “listening to talk radio” and “standing in line at the DMV” to become an Olympic sport.

During that same Olympics, snowboarding was made official. That’s right, the irresponsible, pot-smoking little brother of skiing has its own Olympic event now, in the company of such well-respected contests as table tennis, trampoline and ski-for-a-while-then-shoot-a-gun (whatever that thing is called).

It’s entertaining to hear the sports announcers try to maintain a sense of dignity and professionalism even while spouting snowboarding terminology.

ANNOUNCER: Well, he may be riding “goofy-footed,” but he certainly pulled a nice “fakie” as he “pumped the tranny” and ended with a “gnarly McTwist”!
OTHER ANNOUNCER: And now he just “slayed” a flawless “crippler”!
ANNOUNCER: If only he’d taken that “doobie” out of his mouth first!
OTHER ANNOUNCER: The “judge from Jamaica” sure loves him!

(Perhaps I am being hasty in my generalization that snowboarding is synonymous with smoking marijuana. To be fair, I’m sure many snowboarders also take other drugs.)

On Sunday, Kelly Clark became the first American ever to win a gold medal in this event, and three more Americans won medals on Monday. They all did it on something called a “half-pipe,” which makes me think of even more marijuana jokes.

With snowboarding becoming an established Olympic event, it’s clear we are entering an era of youth in the Games. I know we’ve had medal-winning gymnasts who were no more than 2 or 3 years old — we all remember the steely determination of Keri Strug and the indelible image of her limping off the mat into the arms of her coach, who then changed her diaper and fed her a bottle — but in the snow sports, it seems like they’ve usually at least burned off the baby fat before they compete. Clark is only 18, and most of her competitors are not much older.

Snowboarding appeals to younger viewers, too, involving as it does a lot of weird lingo and the high possibility of death. When the mosh pit becomes an Olympic event, that’s when we’ll know we’ve gone too far.

This was all written and done when, as we sat at T.G.I.Friday's having dinner, we noticed on the TV that the gold, silver and bronze medals for men's half-pipe had all gone to Americans. Fortunately, the Daily Herald office is just across the street, so I was able to dash over and alter one sentence to reflect that fact. (Previously, I had merely stated that Kelly Clark had won on Sunday.) I guess if I were on top of things, I'd have noticed that the men's competition was Monday and I ought to wait for the results before finalizing the column, but on top of things is something I am not.

I believe the snowboarding lingo contained in this column to be accurate, having culled it from the TV broadcast itself, and then having verified it at a snowboarding Web site that has a helpful glossary.

Writing these Olympic columns, I was struck by how big a part of our lives the Games are. I had never paid ANY attention to them -- and yet, I found my head full of information, like the name Keri Strug, and the fact that there was trampolining at the 2000 Games, and how everyone talked about curling in 1998. It was nice to finally have a use for all these facts that had been stored away in my head.

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