Wednesday, February 10, 2010

21 Reasons to Watch the 21st Winter Olympics

On Friday, the 21st Winter Olympic games will kick off in Vancouver. More than 5,500 athletes will all be competing for some precious steel, but that isn’t the entire reason you should care. Here are 21 reasons why you, kind sirs and madams, should be excited for this year’s Olympic Games.

Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, or as you can call him, the Snow Leopard. Kwame is Ghana’s first Winter Olympian, and will be competing in Alpine skiing. How easy is he to love? “No problem. Choo, choo, I’m the train which never stops,” he was quoted as saying. How did he get his nickname? Kwame is being sponsored by an online poker site, and any extra money he makes will be donated to save endangered snow leopards from extinction. Choo, choo indeed!

• Wives, turn away for a second. OK, guys, do this right now. Go to Sports Illustrated, find pictures of Lindsey Vonn, and smile. She’s the world’s best Alpine skier, she is American and she is absolutely beautiful, and not in that “she’s an athlete so she is pretty for an athlete” kind of way. Nope, this is “she walks in a bar and your buddy is going to nudge you” hot. But it isn't her looks that might make her a star. Vonn could win four gold medals in Vancouver. Now that's hot.

• You think NASCAR is fast? Take one night to watch skeleton. Seriously. For all the talk about obscure sports in the Olympics, the fact that people actually practice (and become good) at skeleton is insane. It’s like how Jerry Seinfield used to joke about the luge, only tougher, faster and with more risk.

• Here’s something to ponder: Arnold Schwarzenegger, a man made famous by performance-enhancing drugs, will carry the torch on Friday morning in a Games that is being tortured by, you guessed it, performance-enhancing drugs.

• Football is over. What else are you going to do?

• He was the face of American sports in Turin, and Apolo Ohno will again be competing for medals in speedskating with the flash that has made him a face to remember. He might be 27, but he is still skating well, and needs one more medal to beat Eric Heiden for most by an American man. How is the outlook? In trials, Ohno won the finals in the 500 meter, the 1000 meter and the 1,500 meter, although he came in second in time trails to J.R. Celski in the 1,000 meter. He has said, “This is the strongest team we’ve had,” so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take the medal stand a couple of more times before he leaves us for good.

• And while you’re at it, speedskating in general. What part of Shani Davis don’t you understand? Seriously, if you’re American, you need to love speedskating like you used to love figure skating. Here is an interesting stat: since 1924, speedskating has produced more gold medals in the United States than all other sports in the Winter Olympics … combined! Also, who doesn’t love Stephen Colbert?

• Unlike the World Cup, the Olympics will not have thunder sticks. Vancouver banned the annoying pieces of plastic, which makes me love Vancouver even more.

• Just to see if there is more snowfall in the month leading up to the Olympics in Arizona than in Vancouver.

• To laugh at Russia. See, the country that used to dominate the hell out of the Olympics until the big split has made the claim that its goal this winter is to take home 40 (40!!) medals, four more than the most ever by a country (Germany in 2002). To me, Russia has always been the Yankees of the Winter Olympics, so being able to laugh at it when it falls short (the Russians are projected to snag 21 medals) will be reason enough to tune in.

Johnny Weir’s outfits.

• For Shaun White and his continued dominance in snowboarding. If you didn’t watch the X-Games, you missed White’s brutal practice crash that even left White in awe after watching his face catch the edge of the halfpipe. White will have tricks in his bag for this event, and anytime he’s in the air, your television should be tuned in.

• For the curling. Did you know it’s becoming more popular? There are 154 curling clubs in the United States, and like adult kickball, it’ll be gaining popularity. Also, like modern art, curling is one of the few sports people at home on their couch can look at and think to themselves, “Heck, I could do this.” That is, until you try and play it.

• You gotta watch something the Pope endorses. His words: I hope the Olympics can be “a valued building block of peace and friendship between peoples and nations.” I couldn’t have said it better if I was Pope.

• To actually utter these words for the first time in years: “I’m watching NBC, and I like it!”

• To watch Roberto Carcelén, the first Winter Olympian from Peru. He will be competing in cross-country skiing, but his story on how it all worked out is probably the best you’ll hear from Vancouver. Carcelén was planning on running a marathon in the United States, and decided to get online to meet some people before heading to America. Instantly, he met Kate, and the marathon was history. They met in March of 2003, were married in July, and Kate introduced Roberto to skiing. After watching the ’06 Winter Olympics, Carcelén vowed to become the first Peruvian in the Winter Games, and, umm, he did it.

• Talk about pride… India’s Shiva Keshavan is the only Olympian from the populous country, but wasn’t going to be able to compete because his sled broke and he didn’t have the scratch to fix it. No worries. Five Indian businessmen heard about the luger’s troubles, tossed in $10,000 each and now he is in the field in Vancouver.

• To see Bode Miller drop the crazy act and just ski. Miller is competing in all five Alpine events in Vancouver, even though, you know, he hasn’t even trained for two of them. Call him what you will, Miller will be a big draw at Vancouver.

• To make fun of the American’s outfits for the Opening Ceremony. I’d say it is Steve Martin mixed with a dash of Michael Cera’s bad character in “Youth in Revolt” coupled with what you used to think was cool in ninth grade.

• To see Canada win gold in hockey. Hey, it’s going to happen, but if for some fluke reason it didn’t, I win a bet against a very attractive female in Vancouver who will not be very happy with her country’s squad.

• Because, no matter what you say to yourself about the Winter Olympics, if you are a sports fan, you should care. It is our country competing against other nations in sports, the most universal thing in the world. No languages, no fashions, no styles … just who is better at that moment, and who can step up on the big stage. It is decades of training, sweat, blood, “I don’t want to” and “I can’t do it.” It is people’s entire reason of being, all wrapped up in 15 seconds of competition. It is what these athletes were meant to be doing, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

By Shane Bacon

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