Down-home and just plain cozy -

Down-home and just plain cozy

The “appealingly unprofessional” side of the Olympics


As big as the Olympics are, they’re still pretty small-time, when you get right down to it. I imagine that’s true of most things. Probably once you get inside the White House or Buckingham Palace it’s no big whoop. Still, it’s an unexpected delight to find how informal the Games can be.

At the Whistler Creekside ski hill for the ladies slalom today, the crowds in attendance are fair-sized, but hardly overwhelming: about 5000. I had expected much Swiss-timing solemnity, but instead there’s a festive air to the whole thing, notwithstanding this is the biggest day of the competitors’ lives.

There’s music playing somewhere, and a pair of announcers talking each of the skiers down, finding something positive and encouraging to say about each (more than 80 in all) of them, in both official languages. The concession stands are busy, face-painted fans are walking around beers in hand, and the cowbells—yes, the cowbells are constant.

This, though the conditions are miserable: fog and rain, turning to snow. You can’t see the top half of the run from the bottom at the best of times because of the hill’s layout, but you can barely make out the skiers even 100 yards up. In consequence, most of the press and spectators are watching the whole thing on a massive screen mounted above the timing stand. Seems a long way to go to watch TV.

The course is kept skiable by an army of support crew, who close in after each skier does her run to sweep and scrape the snow back over the spots that have become rough. Some carry shovels, some—the “slippers”—use their skis. They keep at it until seconds before the next skier comes down, somehow always sensing how much time they have.

Maria Riesch of Germany skis the first run nearly half a second faster than anyone else. She’s the story of the women’s alpine skiing competition already, with four top 10 finishes including a gold in the Super Combined. Apparently that came as a surprise, but it’s evident even to these untutored eyes how much smoother she’s skiing than most of the others. There’s no movement in her upper body, and her turns are fluid and unhurried.

The conditions grow worse as the day wears on. On the second run, Marlies Schild of Austria puts down the fastest time, but Riesch is so far ahead of her from her first that she has only to stay close to take the gold. Her victory is bittersweet, however: her kid sister Susanne, in fourth after the first run, skids out on the second (as do at least a dozen others). There’s a tender shot on the big screen of Maria holding her close, for a long time.

At the press conference afterward, the questions are small-town fawning. “How great does it feel to win a second gold?” A middle-aged German journalist peppers each of the skiers with his adoration: “Maria, you’re a fighter, you have so much guts…” “Marlies, you’ve been such a force on the world cup tour…” They blush and giggle out their answers, in halting English. It’s all quite appealingly unprofessional.

Oh, and the Canadians? Brigitte Action leads the way, in 17th. Anna Goodman is 19th, and Erin Mielzynksi 20th. Not our event, yet, but the oldest of them is 24. There’s time.

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Down-home and just plain cozy

  1. Yes, when it comes down to it Andrew, the athletes are all only human like the rest of us, mother nature is as unpredictable as any other time, and without the huge budget and media glitz, this is like any other tournament where friends and family are supporting their loved ones.

  2. Yes Janice but your writing style leaves a lot to be desired.

    • Thanks for the constructive feedback Kev. You forgot the comma after "yes".

  3. Janice, I believe that little dig was for Coyne, as in your comment is fine, but ‘down-home, smalltime’ right? Like Coyne, Kev noted a fault that it only makes trivial sense to point out. I find that alot of blog comments attending journalism mirror the original content in this way, and when I wrote Macleans for Dummies I explored that dynamic with the question in mind: is this the mirror that multiplies hate speech and abuse? I found that it was.

  4. Interesting premise Karen (I think). I tried googling Macleans for Dummies but couldn't pull it up.

  5. Congratulations those involved in Canada's "Own The Podium" program for the program's astonishing and triumphant success.

    "Own the Podium" has been one of the most successful initiatives in Canadian history. Canada may not have "owned" the entire podium, but it certainly owned the top of it – the part that counts.

    Before these games, Canada never had won a gold medal on Canadian soil. Now we're in first place on the medals tables of the IOC and most of the world, having "owned" the top of the podium with a record-smashing gold medal haul.

    • Why is it the journalists and the MSM are never really happy about anything. I am very proud of our athletics and what they have accomplished. Only now is the MSM getting on board – way to late BTW. And it seems that Andrew has a stick stuck up you know where. Be happy, people are having a good time, the games are going great and it is a welcome relief from all the nastiness of the politics (which will be back next week – yuk!).

  6. Wow, yes, we sort of own the podium now.

    What a relief that the true, noble and original purpose of Olympic competition hasn't been forgotten after all.