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by Baxter Cepeda, photo editor

 

Snowboarding is an established Olympic sport, but when Linsdey Jacobellis decided to add some style to her huge lead in the snowboard cross final, she paid the ultimate price and gave herself and her sport a black eye for credibility.

An embarrassing fall was made even worse by her initial denial. When first questioned about what has already been called the most costly showboat in sports history, the 20-year-old silver medalist insulted everyone’s intelligence by pretending she was stabilizing her board, not attempting a relatively simple trick called a method.

Did she not see the dozens of television cameras and hundreds of photographers; not to mention the thousands on hand? Did she not know her face showed that she knew what she had done?

Reporters grilled her harder than Vice President Cheney after a beer and a hunt, and she eventually came clean.

Surely she is more upset than anyone, but it was not that she lost or how she lost it, but the way she handled herself that was the problem. Like Cheney, she took too long to reveal her mistake.

It will make everyone forget that she is still the silver medalist!

Then came the Kobe and Shaq of speed skating—Shawni Davis and Chad Hedrick. They both won multiple medals, including gold, but they will always be remembered for being the stupidest new drama NBC has had in years.

Davis did not want to compete in the team pursuit (for which he never committed), because he wanted to prepare for the 1,000 meters which, three days later, he won.

Hedrick, the team captain, was offended that Davis not only did not participate, but that he never talked to him about it.

Eric Heiden, who swept all five speed skating events at Lake Placid in 1980, got into the act with public criticism of Davis, saying, “Shani goes his own way. He’s not a team player.”

So Davis, as the speed skating world turned, got offended with everyone, including the media. After winning the 1,000, he was noticeably cold during interviews, and he did not talk to media for days before finally appearing on the Tonight Show with Tom Green.

Then there was the classic news conference, where Davis and Heyden avoided the nagging questions for over a half an hour before breaking. They directed their comments to the media as if they were not teammates sitting a few feet apart. Davis eventually stormed out.

Every athlete is told to keep team problems out of the media, but these two missed the memo, and the result was two weeks of distractions and embarrassments.

The feud continued until Davis and Heiden shook hands on the awards podium after taking second and third, respectively, in the 1,500 meters. But by then, as with Jacobellis, the damage had been done.

And then there is the poster boy of embarrassing Olympic athletes—Bode Miller. Miller is the type of athlete who says he is anti-hype, yet he was on every magazine that called and every commercial that paid. He came into Torino already under fire for admitting to drinking and skiing, but that was only the beginning.

Despite his medal-less performances, which included three events he did not finish, Miller actually said he was happy because he got to “party at an Olympic level.”

It’s nice to see that the face of American skiing, which was supposed to challenge Europe for best in the world, is world class at something.

Like Jacobellis and the speed skating crybabies, Miller eventually became more humble during an interview with Tom Brokaw, but it was way too little, way too late.

Miller has not ruled out returning for 2010. No thanks. He embodies one of the biggest problems of sports (besides gambling, drugs, and terrorism): athletes that don’t care. How can fans care about tape-delayed events if the top athletes involved in them act like they don’t care?

People should care, because for every Jacobellis there is a Shaun White (men’s half-pipe), Hannah Teter (women’s half-pipe), and Seth Wescott (men’s snowboard cross), all gold medal winners in snowboard events. But it is not the bling that is important; it is the professionalism they displayed that makes their country and sport proud.

For every Davis and Hedrick, there is an Apollo Anton Ono (short track) and Joey Cheek. Ono was a class act in victory and defeat. Cheek donated his $40,000 bonuses, from gold and silver medals in skating, to the charitable organization Right to Play.

And for every Olympic hangover Miller enjoyed, and every loss he downplayed, there was a Sasha Cohen.

Cohen, arguably the most artistic and graceful skater the sport has ever seen, and definitely a favorite in this competition, had a microscopic lead after the short program, and looked ready to finally win gold.

She did not win, but she showed incredible class and heart. After falling hard on her first jump and putting her hands down on her second, Cohen, knowing gold was once again out of reach, sucked it up and skated almost flawless the rest of her long program.

Afterwards, she did not say she did not care, nor did she make excuses, nor say just what the media wanted to hear. She spoke eloquently and from the heart.

But the most Chicken-Soup-for-the-American-Olympic-Fan’s-Soul at the Torino games was short track skater Kimberly Derrick. Less then 24 hours after her grandfather, who had traveled to Italy to watch her compete, died, she showed up to race in her 1000-meter quarterfinal heat. As she skated to the line, tears poured out of her eyes, but there she was, participating honorably.

Derrick is young enough to skate in 2010, but the loss taught her urgency. What makes her the story to remember is her understanding of exactly what makes Olympic sports so special—it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you do it.
 
 

 

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