Fanning the Flames For the Winter Olympic Games

TeamUSAOne of my favorite things about the Olympics is that they allow me to root for America’s quest for world domination without a bit of ambivalence. Unlike the complicated wars and diplomatic situations our country gets involved with, for often incomprehensible reasons, the winners and losers of the Olympic Games are fairly clear cut, with none of those pesky gray areas to fret about. Go USA!

The competition between the Summer and Winter Olympics is a little bit murkier.

It might be easy to assume that because I grew up in Santa Barbara, the Summer Olympics would always get the gold. Volleyball, swimming, gymnastics, water polo, diving, basketball, tennis-these were the sports I played and watched, so I could easily appreciate the athleticism required to be the best in the world at any of the summer sports.

The Winter Olympics are a bit more foreign to me. Curling, Luge, Bobsleds—I’m never quite sure what these events are about. Not that this stops me from putting in some marathon TV hours. I’m staying up well past midnight this week to do my part for the Olympic team, yet no one’s giving me million dollar endorsement deals. I don’t even get a free Nike Jacket, and the snowboard team’s plaid ones are really cute. Heck, at this point I’d settle for a Gatorade.

But even more than the exotic challenge of figuring out some of the rules, the thing about the Winter Olympics that keeps me faithfully glued to the TV—for many, many more hours than can possibly be healthy—is the drama. Almost all of the winter sports have the possibility for huge airborne, gravity-defying success or even more ginormous, dream-crashing failure.

The brutally cold hard fact that so many of these athletes could bite it and get seriously hurt is what keeps me on the edge of my seat for the Winter Olympics. Just uttering the name “Skeleton” (a sport where people lie face down on a sled and go careening down a frozen track without any brakes) runs a chill down my spine. The same thing with “Biathlon.” Did anyone really think it was safe to combine cross-country skiing with speed trials and shooting? Next thing we know they’ll make it a “Triathlon” and bring in Curlers to throw rocks.

The Winter Olympics could be a great action adventure movie. I can just see the trailer: Exotically handsome Apolo Ohno (Oh! No!) courageously fights off two South Koreans who knock each other out, and then victoriously clutches the American flag on the short track. Meanwhile, injured Lindsey Vonn “America’s fastest bikini-model-not-named-Danica Patrick,” whooshes her way downhill for an impressive gold medal victory. Could a romance be brewing between these two?

But wait, there’s danger around the corner, as a quick cut reel of dramatic wipeouts, snow snuffs and faceplants reveals the anguished falls of the Netherlands’ speed skater Annette Gerritsen, France’s skier Anthony Benna, Russian speed skater Yulia Nemaya, Canada’s cross country skier Ivan Babikov, Chinese short track skater Nannan Zhao and German pairs skater Robin Szolkowy, fading into a final shot of Canadian hockey player Marie-Philip Poulin practically eating the net.

And that’s just the first few days of action.

Watching the ice skating in particular, I feel like a rubber-necker at a car crash, anxiously waiting for a triple axel to turn into a bone-bursting accident or a salchow to spin into a crushing calamity. Pairs skating even has a move called the death spiral. You don’t see that in beach volleyball. No wonder I can’t look away.

Pass the popcorn. I’m gonna be here awhile.

When Leslie’s not glued to her TV screen for the winter games, she can be reached at For more columns visit Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on February 19, 2010.