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Olympic merit, early March Madness

February 16, 2006

Olympic merit

While I’ll never claim to follow Olympic events religiously, as a sports fan it’s hard not to notice what’s going on in the world of international competition. As the current Winter Olympiad was approaching, much national press was given to American downhill hopeful Bode Miller, and figure skater Michelle Kwan. Miller has confessed to partying quite hard during competition weekends, and is known for being slightly reckless on the slopes. Kwan is one of the more recent bearers of the America’s Skating Sweethart title, and was hoping to overcome injury to make the Olympic team and score her first gold medal. Advertising campaigns were filled with these athletes, and given recent circumstances, I have to question this decision.

Bode Miller is an interesting character, by all accounts given. A skier who is more interested in racing the best race possible than actually winning, he is a breath of fresh air (in this sense) compared to the American way of “win at any cost.” But I strongly believe advertisers must consider the athlete as a whole when they choose who to endorse. Given Miller’s loose guidelines for safety and a penchant for reckless operation, I’m not sure that I would make him the focal point of my Olympic marketing campaign as Nike has done online. While striving for personal success in place of “winning” is quite admirable, other elements of that which is Bode may not be those which I would wish to subliminally tell the youth of America (or the world) is acceptable. So much talk is issued about “the spirit of the Games”, and it is hard for me to believe that there aren’t athletes out there that could represent this principle and have strong character as well. I realize that marketability, and Miller is very marketable, is what drives media coverage. It would still be nice to have people be able to see some good parts of themselves in the athletes, and for the media to promote these parts of their lives instead of constantly going for what makes the best story. Bode is probably a great guy, but all I ever hear about is skiing drunk. I don’t want people to think that Olympians don’t have problems, but I don’t want to glorify these problems either.

Michelle Kwan has been an American figure skating icon for at least eight years now (I won’t claim to know exactly how long she has been around). In the past two Olympic games, she has won bronze and silver medals and was looking to the 2006 event for her first Olympic gold medal. Based on my understanding, the top three qualifiers in the Olympic trials win a spot on the women’s ice skating team. Kwan was not in that top three because of injury, but applied for a medical exemption to skate in Torino. Whatever the governing body is accepted her plea, and bumped Emily Hughes (third place qualifier) from the team to make room for the very marketable Kwan. I can imagine (as I’m not a world class athlete and thus don’t know) that it would be very difficult to accept that my last hope at Olympic gold was likely dashed by injury. However I would like to think I could handle the situation with grace and dignity and cheer for those who were competing rather than petition myself on the team even though I still may not be healthy enough to perform. Sure enough, after one day of practicing in Torino, Kwan withdrew from the women’s competition and Hughes was called up from New York to make the trip and fill the spot that was rightfully hers.

I’m not sure why something like this bothers me so much, but it does. Favoritism is exercised over results. The path is clearly indicated and set forth by a governing body to determine who has the honor and responsibility to represent this nation in the Olympic games. Kwan’s petition damages the integrity of the system and puts marketability and star power over competition based results. If this is truly how the powers-that-be want the system to work, why bother having Olympic trials at all? Perhaps we should just pick who will make the best story, regardless of their results. I admire Hughes through it all, as she seems to truly appreciate getting a second chance and does not appear to hold any ill will against a system that almost kept her out of her first Olympic competition.

(You know it’s a slow news day at EOB when I write about women’s figure skating)

Buckeyes for real?

The Ohio State men’s basketball squad lost a road contest to Wisconsin last night, to fall to (7-4) in Big Te(leve)n play. A few days after handling the Biting Illini in Columbus, the Buckeyes proved how tough it is to win on the road in what is arguably this year’s toughest conference. With an upcoming game against the skilled Spartans in the Breslin Center, Coach Thad Matta’s squad has one more incredibly difficult task ahead before hitting the road to Indianapolis and the Big Te(leve)n Tournament. How far Ohio State goes in the post-season will be determined by hard work. The Buckeyes are at their best when playing tight defense and exercising their ability to force play. If the team plays to its ability, I think they have a chance to hit the Sweet 16 in the Big Dance. If not, they could provide for an early round upset by a low seed. Me, I’m betting on the Buckeyes to send the seniors out having made the final eight of the tourney. But you didn’t hear it here.

Thanks for reading. Come back soon.

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