Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

Who needs Sochi? South has its own winter games

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The enjoyment of the Winter Olympics has been interrupted by winter.

Switzerland's Ursina Haller competes in the women's snowboard half pipe qualifying on Wednesday. The sport encourages participants to attempt risky aerial stunts.  SERGEI GRITS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
SERGEI GRITS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Switzerland's Ursina Haller competes in the women's snowboard half pipe qualifying on Wednesday. The sport encourages participants to attempt risky aerial stunts.

While athletes from around the world are enduring 61-degree weather in balmy Sochi, Russia, the South is covered in snow and ice. If you’re lucky, you still have electricity.

For weeks leading up to the 2014 Winter Games, journalists and athletes were sending out constant dispatches of the deplorable conditions of the still-under-construction host city. No potable water, no elevators, no bathroom stalls, no flushing toilet paper, no door knobs, no lobby, pictures of a shirtless Vladimir Putin everywhere. One U.S. athlete had to break out of his own bathroom by busting through the door like the Kool-aid pitcher.

You name it, there was something to gripe about.

What some unfortunate souls at home wouldn’t give now for those spartan facilities as we sit huddled in cold homes around our stashes of bread and milk trying to convince our pets to go outside for a potty break.

Perhaps the worst blow of all is losing access to TV and Internet to keep abreast of how much Norway and the Netherlands are whipping the rest of us superpowers. For all the faults of NBC’s formulaic tape-delayed coverage (and there are many faults), there is something totally cool about watching the Winter Olympics.

Winter Games are simply beautiful to behold. From the ultra-cool Alpine downhill skiing to the freaky luge to the artful figure skating, there is nothing else to compare. The greatest thing about most of it is that it all looks completely terrifying – which is not a feature you get in most of the more traditional Summer Games. If you grew up in the ABC Wide World of Sports days and never tired of seeing the “agony of defeat” opener, you know what I mean.

Winter sports always seem to have the potential for someone to die or become horribly mangled at any moment. It’s like watching NASCAR for the wrecks.

Downhill skiers are “flying” at speeds in excess of 80 miles per hour. You’re breaking the law doing that strapped into your fortified SUV down Interstate 20, much less wrapped into nothing but a Lycra suit winding down the side of an icy cliff. American Bode Miller said the Sochi course has the potential to put the “terminal” in terminal velocity.

Heck, the ice dancers even look like they’re begging for a broken ankle. Pretty much the only Winter Olympic sport that doesn’t endanger life and limb is curling, but even the sight of “athletes” wielding brooms is oddly mesmerizing.

But most of the rest of it is totally nuts in the best kind of way. I don’t know how any of these people walk away from the dazzling halfpipe or large hill ski jumps without compound fractures.

And don’t get me started on the skeleton. Luge always seemed like the craziest Olympic sport, with one participant suffering a fatal crash going 90 mph in a training run before the Vancouver Games. Sochi dialed its luge course back by 10 mph to try to keep competitors safe (and if you haven’t seen the video of the dude who fell off his sled and got back on, Google it) but safe is a relative term that doesn’t really apply to anything taking place on ice. Try driving to the grocery store if you don’t believe me.

The skeleton, however, just decided to take all the inherent danger of luge and chose to do it head first. Even the NFL isn’t asking for this kind of head trauma. These guys make bobsledders look tame since even tropical-bound Jamaicans can do it.

It’s all just so much fun to watch. If only NBC would let us see it live without the constant risk of already knowing the results. It would have been so much more compelling to watch the men’s halfpipe come down to one final run by the guy who pretty much invented it if you didn’t already know 10 hours earlier that two-time gold medalist Shaun White (or any of his American teammates) had failed to medal.

NBC paid a lot of money for the rights – we get that. They must cater to enough older CBS viewers who aren’t fluent in social media and sit patiently through all the commercials to see the manipulated pre-packed broadcast as if it were “plausibly live.” But most of us already knew hours in advance of Wednesday night’s “show” that women’s Alpine skiers from Slovenia and Switzerland already shared an unprecedented tie in the downhill. It kind of spoils the wonder of sudden realization.

The only other flaw in the Winter Games is there seems to be too much judging – though without it we never would have got to see the classic reaction of American Ashley Wagner to her scores.

Judgment used to be pretty much the exclusive domain of figure skating, which has remained the most highly rated event despite numerous judging scandals through the years. Ski jumping seems like a purely quantifiable distance event, but there are deductions for style points.

But now the X-game events have brought slopestyle and freestyle and moguls and halfpipe into the subjective realm of the Olympic judges. It would be easy to complain about if it didn’t seem to inspire the participants to try ever more insane airborne maneuvers that bring new meaning to the term risk-reward.

If you’re without power, the good news is that by the time you get it back Bob Costas should have returned with less likelihood of scaring your children. Did he not see the warnings to avoid using the toxic hotel water on the face?

In the meantime, take the kids outside and practice the skeleton in the driveway. At this wintry rate we may be able to put the South in South Korea in 2018.


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