Friday, February 26, 2010

Redemption and the Winter Games

So many great stories covered so well, in most cases live by NBC, during the Vancouver Winter Games. Darn it, they’re almost over. Brace for the return of banality, obscenity and general silliness. If memory serves, it’s been two weeks since I last saw a commercial for products designed to deal with erectile dysfunction or feminine hygiene issues (although they probably were out there somewhere; just not among the Olympics sponsors).

It’s been interesting to be reminded that competitive athletes of Olympic proportions are the major celebrities in other nations --- skiers in Scandinavia, speed skaters in the Netherlands, multiple sports in China and, in South Korea, the incomparable Kim Yu-na, who performed her way to gold Thursday night in women’s figure skating. Wonder if we should reconsider who we look up to or are obsessed by in this sprawling disjointed country of ours.

What a performance Kim Yu-na turned in! Isn’t it neat that talent combined with training and presence of mind can sometimes still result in perfection?

The night probably belonged to Joannie Rochette, who skated to bronze borne up by her own guts, the legacy of her late mother’s love and an amazing display of Olympics-wide (certainly Canada-wide and most likely world-wide, too) support. “Feel the love” is treated as a joke nowadays, but in this instance you really could and it was amazing.

I kept thinking about how pleased her mother. Therese, who died Sunday of an apparent heart attack after arriving in Vancouver from Quebec to watch her daughter skate, would be. Maybe we all need to remember when confronted by our own griefs that Joannie had the right idea. Those we mourn certainly wouldn’t want to be forgotten, but neither would they want us to wallow in mourning as we’re prone to do. They would want us to redeem the day, in our modest ways, as Joannie did so spectacularly.

And how about that Jeret “Speedy” Peterson who pulled off his “hurricane” and nailed the landing to take silver in men’s freestyle aerials? Here’s a case of redemption brilliantly capped and the rest of us taken along for the ride.

Just think of all he’s overcome --- depression, the death of a sister killed by a drunk driver, watching a roommate kill himself in 2005, alcoholism, suicide attempts, ejection from the athletes’ village at the 2006 Torino Olympics after slugging a friend, bankruptcy and more. Brilliant!

Then there was Bill Demong’s gold and Johnny Spillane’s silver in Nordic Combined, capping the best Olympics ever for U.S. skiers in Nordic events. And still a few more days and a few more events to go.

The Summer Games, slated for London, are two years away now; and Russia will host the next Winter Games in 2014. If somehow we could manage the Olympics every year, rather than every other, the world might be a more hopeful place.


Prolonged exposure to Canada and Canadians has been a major pleasure of the Winter Games, too.

So far as broadcasting is concerned, I’ve gotten the biggest kick out of Mary Carillo’s brief features from just about everywhere in Canada as coverage has continued. She’s great and willing to try, it seems, just about anything.

It’s been a pleasure, too, to cheer for our neighbors when they win big. In addition to Rochette, there were unforgettable images of moguls gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau greeting his brother, Frederic, born with cerebral palsy; the perfect ice dancing performance of gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir --- and much more..

So what if Canada didn’t own the podium, as it had hoped. Quality counts.

Canada obvious is a territory as diversely beautiful as the United States, and seems to have a substantially greater commitment to the environment. Although there have been issues up there, too (a once-strident separatist movement in Quebec comes to mind), Canadians seem more mannerly and, perhaps, just plain nicer than we are on the average. And besides, they have a health system that works.


One of the bummers of the week was watching (briefly) the continuing health care reform debate in this country, including that odd “summit” at Blair House.

Sadly, the Republicans probably are right in stalling the current confused and confusing general overhaul legislation, but probably for the wrong reasons.

I wonder if most lawmakers, deep down inside, realize that the only long-term way to keep the U.S. health care system from choking as costs rise and the number of those able to afford or even find insurance declines is a single-payer government-run system much like Canada’s or our own Medicare/Medicaid. That sort of system is of course easier to operate when the population is 34 rather than 300 million. And the for-profit (often wearing non-profit status) health-care and health insurance industries stridently oppose it.

Politicians from top to bottom just haven’t got the guts even to talk about it.


Speaking of commercials, three have been getting on my nerves lately. Two are by Qwest, one featuring a guy who always came in second until he got a good deal from the advertiser, and the other, a thick-headed oaf who invades a French classroom in order to use WiFi and concludes the teacher is pursuing a relationship. Both commercials seem demeaning, the latter especially so as it targets both oafs and women.

The other is brought to us by one of trade schools in Des Moines (they’re calling themselves universities these days, heaven help us), but I can’t remember if it’s Kaplan or Vatterott. The commercial is all about how quick and easy it is to become a medical technologist. I doubt that. But if it is true, I’m not sure I want to get involved in a health care system where the technologists go to work after two weeks’ training in a strip mall, as the commercial implies.

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