Sunday, January 15, 2006

More lessons learned from sports

Well, Saturday, January 14, 2006 was an interesting sports day to say the least.

The 2006 State Farm US National Figure Skating Championships took place with a mixed level of enthusiasm. Echoing the much referred to 1994 season, the US was sending a team that would have a couple of medalists at best but surely no sure bets for gold. None of the men from 2002 repeated. Michael Weiss and Timothy Goebel washed out and badly. So badly that Matt Savoie, who usually places off of the podium, skated the second best free skate and is going to the Olympics. Joining him will be Evan Lysacek, the surprise of the 2005 US Nationals and the World Championships and the off-center but interesting to watch Johnny Weir, who has created Bodie Miller-like buzz about due to some analogies he made about skating and drugs.

Sasha Cohen finally won her first gold medal at the US Nationals at a competition that did not feature Michelle Kwan. To give my least favorite skater some credit, the choreography of her program was wonderful and if she can execute it flawless, she does have a chance of getting a medal. She is at least proficient enough to pull it off. I reserve the right to be snarky and say that she only did as well as she did because Michelle Kwan was not there and perhaps being sick helped her to focus. Kimmie Meissner, who I call "Money" because of her reliable jumping (at least until last night), will be going to Olympics also. It will be a great experience for her though I do feel that if she medals it will be because the other women wash out. Artistically, she still has room to grow.

It looks like pending a January 27th judgment, Michelle Kwan is on the Olympic team. Again, echoing the 1994 season, Michelle petitioned for her spot since due to a groin injury, she could not compete in the US Nationals, from which final team is chosen. Also in a weird irony, Emily Hughes, sister of Sarah-the one who beat Michelle out for the gold in 2002, will be the alternate if Michelle gets the final okay to go.

ABC's broadcast featured not just the usual suspects-Dick Button, Peggy Fleming, Peter Carruthers and Terry "I can't believe he played basketball on the 1983 NCAA winning NC State team" Gannon-but 1984 and 1988 Olympic gold medalist Katarina Wiit and 4 time World Champion Kurt Browning. One thing I found unusual about this was that both skaters are not US citizens. They were not doing commentary on their respective countries (Germany and Canada). I also have never seen both take up commentator duties but it was interesting to see Kurt Browning behave quite seriously. I suspect that ABC feels that Dick and even Peggy (who is in her late 50s and still looks like a millions bucks) are a wee bit long in the tooth and if they are going to infuse their broadcast with new blood, it should be now.

Katarina Witt provided a line that pretty much provided the moral for both the skating and the football competitions that took place on January 14th. When asked by Terry Gannon about Michelle Kwan and if she should be added to the Olympic Team by a medical bye, Katarina Witt said that "she should only go if she intends to win the gold medal." She further said that there would be no other reason to justify going. Michelle must be beyond determined to bring home a gold medal. If this is not what Michelle is after, if she has any doubt, if she is only doing it because this is expected of her, then she should let someone else go. She has two Olympic medals and other honors. The only reason to go through this process would be to bring back a gold medal.

Now, those who know me, know that I am not a fan of Katarina Witt. This goes back to the 1988 Olympics. She captured the gold medal away from my favorite, Debi Thomas. I saw Katarina as having no talent and benefitting more from her classical features (read: being white) than from any technical skill. I have since amended that perspective after gaining some years (I was in grade school at the time of the Calgary Olympics) and some information.

I learned that Debi Thomas' third place finish at Calgary had more to do with the insanely high ranking that the judges gave to Canada's Liz Manley, who had a mediocre program but had landed all of her jumps relatively cleanly. She beat Debi, whose falls definitely cost her gold but would have been enough for silver had not the vote gone the way it did. I also learned that Katarina Witt pretty much had to win gold or else face a life that had no real future. Katarina was a product of extremely repressive East Germany. Winning the gold meant that she could be allowed to leave the country and tour and obtain a better life for herself. No one foresaw the Berlin wall coming down in 1989. Brian Boitano also said in his reflection of the competition that Katarina wanted the gold medal more than Debi did. I at first took issue with that but then I remembered all the times where Debi talked about being a doctor and how skating, while something that she loved to do was not her ultimate destination. At the "kiss and cry" in 1988 after her less than best long program, she said that it was back to school. If Debi had won, what kind of destiny would have been Katarina Witt's? Would she have been as well known? Would she have been able to continue?

Knowing what I know now, makes me more appreciative of the hitsuzen or fate of the situation, but I still find Katarina Witt's skating to be boring and I still think that Debi Thomas was a better skater than she was. I do also appreciate what she tried to communicate to Michelle Kwan. It was in the same vein as NBA star Karl Malone's talk with Michelle.

The New England Patriots lost in the postseason to the Denver Broncos. While most analysts had them winning, they also cautioned that the Patriots had to take charge of the game from start to the finish. They did sorta, which allowed for both teams to enter the 2nd quarter scoreless but the Broncos discovered their "groove" and the Patriots allowed themselves to be defeated by crazy errors.

The Patriots did fight as best as they could. Fans needed them to fight since losing was not something that the Patriots did. At least, the Patriots of the 21st century. They were expected to win. There was always a miracle that took place.

Well, it did not happen.

Did the Patriots not want the win as badly as the Broncos? Probably not. These were not guys that went into and left the game feeling a sense of entitlement or acting as if they could cruise their way back to the Superbowl.

When I saw the Patriots leave the field at the end, I was reminded of what Michelle Kwan's father told her when she had a disastrous short program at the 1999 Worlds in Helsinki, which endangered her chance to win gold. He said that you can't win all the time and indicated that she needed to do her best. Michelle pulled herself together and skated a strong program. She did not win, since her challenger, who usually finished 3rd or off the podium, maintained and won the 1999 World Championship. However, Michelle Kwan would go on to win 4 more championships and tie Maribel Vinson Owen's record of 9 US National Championships.

The Patriots will survive this loss. They will "go big" next year.

Hopefully Michelle will "go big" too. If she is not going to "go big," then she should stay home.

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