Originally created 02/22/98

Departing thoughts about the Winter Olympics



NAGANO, Japan - I'll leave the Winter Olympics with a lot of memories, mostly good and some bad. I'd like to use this last column from Japan to share some of them with you. There were far more highlights than lowlights, so I'll start with the good things.

The highlight of the Games for me had to be the remarkable U.S. women's hockey team. I first met these young women last October. I was impressed from the beginning. Not only do they play good hockey, but they also know how to handle themselves. I saw them beat Canada in an overtime shootout in Salt Lake City. The last two games I saw them play they won even more convincingly, getting better with every game they played together. They carried the dreams of many young women all the way to the gold medal. They even liked being role models.

Now their captain, Cammi Granato, will carry the U.S. flag for closing ceremonies. I will hate to see this team break up.

Hermann Maier's two gold medals in Alpine skiing would be a great achievement at any time, but winning them after surviving one of the most spectacular crashes in Olympic history is breath-taking. Mr. Maier won both the super G and giant slalom by demolishing his competition. He would finish a run far ahead of his competition and still not be satisfied with it.

Watching Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan win gold and silver in women's figure skating was thrilling, even if the result wasn't quite what the experts had predicted. Both of these young women are talented, poised and a delight on the ice. They should be fun to watch if they both continue competitive skating for the next four years.

Jonny Moseley got the ball rolling for the United States five days into the Games with his gold medal in moguls skiing. Some people might call him cocky or brash but he just knows what he can do. He skis with style and assurance and isn't obnoxious about it. He'll probably parlay his gold medal into some kind of celebrity.

Chris Thorpe, Gordy Sheer, Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin smashed the medal barrier that U.S. luge racers have been struggling with since the sport was added to the Winter Olympics in 1964. They did it in the quiet, self-confident way that doesn't draw any attention to themselves. They just worked hard and kept getting better and better until they wound up with a silver and a bronze in the doubles luge. For a nonglamour sport, luge has gotten a lot of attention in Nagano.

Even though the U.S. speed skaters only won one bronze and one silver medal, they brought a young team that had a lot of top 10 finishes. They should only get better. The hope is that by 2002 in Salt Lake City, they will bring in a bushel of medals. Whatever happens then, they distinguished themselves in this first Olympics after Bonnie Blair and Dan Jansen retired by their hard work, determination and respectable finishes.

There were several personal bests and a handful of American records.

What can you say about Picabo Street? Just when you think she's washed up, she wins a gold medal in the women's super G. A serious knee injury, a major fall just before the Olympics: Nothing can keep her down. She is one of the few bright spots in U.S. skiing.

Now here are a few things I'd just as soon forget about from these Olympics: The U.S. men's hockey team was disgraceful. Not only did they play poorly and without enthusiasm, but they also trashed their rooms in the Olympic Village after they lost their last game. Their nickname has become Team Kirin, after the official beer and wine sponsor of the Nagano Olympics.

Then the other so-called hockey superpower, Canada, failed to win a medal. I cheered.

Bring back the collegians. At least they were fun to watch. But I'm afraid the pros are here to stay.

It still bothers me to watch the tape of Mr. Maier's horrible crash in the downhill. He said he still hasn't seen it, and his mother had to be sedated when she saw it. That he could walk away from it, much less still race, is a miracle.

I hope the snowboard competition does not make a return appearance in the Olympics. The giant slalom at least makes some sense, but the halfpipe is a stupid event. And the people who compete are just plain goofy. They work overtime to reinforce the stereotypes about airheaded boarders. And after bragging about how good they were, they tanked the Olympics.

Please, Nicole Bobek, retire. I cringed watching her slip and fall to the ice over and over in the figure skating. When she predicted the U.S. women would sweep the ice I didn't think she meant it literally.

The aging U.S. men's Alpine team needs to hang it up and give some young guys a chance. When is the last time any of these guys has won a race besides Tommy Moe in the 1994 Olympics? They look like they should be collecting Social Security.

The U.S. bobsled team leaves a few bad memories, only because of all the trash talk leading up to Nagano. If they didn't win a medal again, no one would have cared. We didn't hate the luge team because they didn't win. But the bobsledders, after years of excuses about why they didn't win, said this was the year. They were going to kick European butt. And they didn't win. Find some drivers who know how to handle the sleds.

Good memories and bad, it was still the Olympics, the greatest sports spectacle on Earth. Though there was no big dramatic story like Tanya and Nancy or Bonnie Blair, there were a million interesting stories. I tried to find some of them, and I hope you enjoyed them. I certainly did.