Pride goeth before

The Visa jinx continues at the Winter Olympics. Their three most prominent Olympic athletes have all come up short: Bode Miller, Michelle Kwan, and now Lindsey Jacobellis, who "pulled a hammy" in the snowboard cross finals yesterday. Visa is breathing a sigh of relief that they never aired their Dick Cheney quail hunting TV spot. Coca-Cola pulled its Michelle Kwan spots, but their big Winter Olympic athlete endorser Apolo Anton Ohno is still missing gold (as well as an l from his first name).
In her Visa commercial, "Nervous," Jacobellis's coach tries to quell her anxiety before the event. All his motivational talk fails to do the trick, until he says, "Imagine your Visa check card just got stolen." Leaving aside the goofiness of the entire Visa check card ad campaign, it's particularly cruel that Jacobellis wasn't nervous enough in the snowboard cross finals to pull out victory.
After the event, reporters tried to tactfully extract some remorse from Jacobellis, but she stuck to her story, for the most part. She said she'd been having problems with the jump and tried to use her method grab to stabilize. Because that was obviously not the case, even to the most uneducated of viewers, every one of her denials was as discomfiting to listen to as the crash was to watch. Was she trying to cover for herself, or had some higher ups on the U.S. Olympic team given her the lines to read in a PR cover-up?

If she'd broken down and cried, wished she could have that fateful jump back, no one would have blamed her. But she maintained a placid, almost stoic PR face, though she conceded later in the day that some showboating may have led her astray. When she appeared in the studio with Bob Costas, I cringed in anticipation of a withering series of questions, but Costas showed a welcome restraint. He asked once about the showboating, but applauded her for not ducking the press. After all, she's just twenty years old and comes from a sport where style and an attitude of rebellion is entwined with the birth of the sport. A bit of youthful exuberance in that situation is understandable, if not good judgment, and the shade of the medal around her neck and the continual replay of her gaffe for years and years to come is punishment enough.
Leaving aside Jacobellis's fall, snowboard cross is the coolest new Winter Olympic sport. It puts competitors on the same course at the same time, allows contact, and results in a clear winner, with no human judging of creativity or skill. Also, it results in lots of spectacular crashes. When ESPN shows highlights of hockey games or NASCAR races, they show two types of events. Goals or the winner crossing the finish line, and fights or crashes.
Crashes just might be the most important factor in drawing viewers. Why is figure skating the most popular Winter Olympic sport? Could it be because the winner is the only one who can remain upright? Would more people watch ski jumping if Eddie the Eagle were competing, with the potential of turning into a human fireball with every jump? Why is watching Bode Miller downhill ski so riveting? The promise of spectacular crash draws out the rubber-necker in all of us.
Snowboard cross is human NASCAR. In Jacobellis's final, one competitor lost control on a jump and had to be evacuated on a stretcher, all within the first thirty seconds. Another rider flew off the course through a fence and had to crawl up a hill to make it to the finish line for bronze. If she hadn't gotten up, I guess they would have had an extra bronze medal. The next time I'm out snowboarding, I hope to be able to race a few friends down a snowboard cross course. They should build some in addition to the terrain parks at many resorts, and they should put them near the bottom of the mountain to add some fun to the last run of the day.
I have a proposal for another new Winter Olympic sport, a twist on the biathlon: one guy skis down the mountain while several other skiers with machine guns chase him down. Some of the pursuers can even be on motorcycles with studded tires. The competing skier has guns of his own, one in each of his ski poles, and has to survive while navigating an obstacle course down the mountain. Winners are determined by a blend of a few things: survival, the number of pursuers he/she manages to gun down, and style points on jumps and rails and the such. Based on a few James Bond movies I've seen, I'd expect good things from the British team.
Back on the topic of Olympics sponsors, I'm not sure what to make of the fact that Home Depot employs more Olympians than any other company. Every time the Olympics come around, Home Depot airs its ads touting its Olympian employees. Do Home Depot employees get a lot of time off to practice? Does Home Depot pay for their training? Is there a pool in the back office of every Home Depot? It's such a tease. I go to Home Depot expecting that when I ask for something off of a shelf high up, some Home Depot employee will sprint down the aisle with a long segment of PVC pipe, pole vault up towards the roof, grab my item, and then nail the landing with arms raised to the sky ("Wow, hey, I've got to shop here more often.").
By the way, NBC found its new hit comedy during the Winter Olympics, but unfortunately it ended tonight. Yes, My Name is Ice Dancing. I'd never watched this sport before, but yesterday after my nephew went to bed, we adults tuned in to ice dancing. A good time was had by all, especially with the return of the great Dick Button. He brings a real knowledge of the sport, without a doubt, but more importantly he brings a Bud Collins-esque panache and fervor and a brand of honesty rare in the sports commentating world.
When Button gets himself worked up, the results are spectacular.
[Note: I made these up, but like Hollywood biopics, they were inspired by a true story]
Add that to the facial expressions of the ice dancers as they "get into character," the indescribable costumes (why does every guy have to expose his chest?), the supercharged backstage tensions between couples who are mixing work and love, and the potential that at any moment a guy might lose his grip and toss his partner into the third row of the stands, and you have entertainment gold. One way to improve the broadcasts would be to add some pop-up notes during the routines, a la VH1:
75% of ice dancing and figure skating couples have dated.
Ben is secretly in love with Tanith.
Sasha Cohen is really 9 years old.
Olivier's favorite color is fuschia, and his favorite movie is Billy Elliot.
[Note: I made these up, too; I think Sasha Cohen is actually only 7 years old.]
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to work on my comedic screenplay starring Will Ferrell and Kirsten Dunst as a pair of ice dancers, Vince Vaughn as their coach, and Owen Wilson as a competing dancer from Bulgaria.