By Stefanie Schappert
Special to the Clyde Fitch Report
What happened to the days when the Olympics athletes were heroes and not whiners?
Since the start of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, the public has been inundated with cries of foul play, foul judging and foul sportsmanship. It seems the latest group of Olympic athletes are taking on the characteristics of kindergarteners instead of good-will ambassadors for their own countries. Is it just a natural progression of the Generation X’ers “me! me! me!” mentality, or is the struggle for national pride these days so great that athletes will go to any length to stack the cards in their favor, even if they look like sore losers?
The biggest cry of foul play to make the headlines so far during this Olympic season is in men’s figure skating. Russian gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko was the favorite for gold in Vancouver — or at least that’s how the Russians explained it. But 2009 world champion and American underdog — again what the Russians told us — Evan Lysecek beat their golden boy, even though it was Plushenko who attempted and successfully completed a quad, the most difficult jump in skating. Plushenko, stunned to lose the gold to Lysecek, was not only visibly pissed with silver, but gave a tongue lashing to anyone who’d listen about how he was a “victim of poor judging.” Disrespectfully jumping onto Lysecek’s podium spot during the medal ceremony, the cocky Russian, along with his coach, went so far as to discredit men’s figure skating, saying it has turned into an “ice dancing” competition. He even called Lysecek an “unworthy opponent.” Meanwhile, he displayed a made up “Platinum Medal of Vancouver” on his own personal website (now taken down).
But it seems that arrogance and delusional pride run in the Kremlin, so maybe Plushenko is simply emulating what he knows. Barely a day after Plushenko’s loss, Russian president Vladimir Putin couldn’t resist defending the quad-jumping skater, saying “he was robbed of his destiny” and “silver is really gold.” Please, Vlad, tell us how you really feel. Throughout history there has always be an underlying tension between East and West that spills over into the Olympics. As usual, Russia believes it must crush the American spirit to galvanize its own. No one even blinked an eye when Putin joined Plushenko in his vitriol. The world expects this kind of fierce machismo from the Russians; it has been their way for decades.
My Country Is Better Than Your Country Nyeh Nyeh Nyeh
Playing the part of ungracious hosts, the Canadian government all but took out ad space around the world leading up to the Vancouver games, declaring an Olympic war against all other nations. The not-so-brilliant “Own the Podium” campaign vowed to crush the competition and reign victorious in the Olympic medal count. Sadly for the Cannuks, this dream was quickly laid to rest halfway through the games as one Canadian athlete after another, including the favored Canadian ice hockey team, failed to deliver the goods. Some Canadian athletes are blaming the smack-talking PR plan for their poor performance, while other medal-less athletes are breaking down in tears for letting their country down. Like these athletes don’t have enough pressure?
OK, so the Russians play into stereotype and the Canadians learn a hard lesson in humility. But what about some other athletes who should know better? How about the Austrian ski-jumping team calling out a Swiss medalist for illegal boot bindings or Danish curlers crying because the crowd was too loud to concentrate? What about our own U.S. bobsled team complaining that the Brits won because of aerodynamic helmets? (All the accusations were deemed unfounded by the various committees.) Guys: stop complaining already and get on with it. (OK, maybe I’m being hard on the Danish curlers who are used to a quiet playing environment, such as in golf.) But the sign of a great athlete is one who can beat the odds and rise above challenges and pressure to perform their personal best, no matter what.
Big Girls Don’t Cry
Look at championship skier Lindsey Vonn, she became the first American woman to win Olympic gold in downhill skiing (she also claimed bronze in the super-G). Four years ago, in Torino, Vonn wiped out during her first run, killing her chances of any medal. The crash was so bad she was airlifted to a hospital. Yet, two days later, Vonn was back on the slopes in time for the next race. A week before Vancouver, Vonn suffered an incapacitating shin injury. She wasn’t sure if she could even compete — but she did, and went on to make history without barely a complaint. Just last year, suffering from a sliced open thumb, she skied through the World Cup finals with an arm brace and her ski pole taped to her hand. Like other winning athletes, Vonn relies only on her own strength and ability. She has the steely mindset of an athlete who dismisses the possibility of outside factors determining her success. Now for someone not so gracious: fellow U.S. teammate (and now silver medalist) Julie Mancuso. After Vonn’s win, Mancuso slammed the media for giving all the attention to Vonn and ignoring the rest of the U.S. skiers. Um, Julie, that’s what supposed to happen when you outshine the rest and take home gold. Any time you’re ready, no one’s stopping you.
Now, don’t try this at home, but I can’t help but give a big shout-out to the gutsy Slovenian cross-country skier Petra Majdic, who had a devastating wipeout during a practice run in Whistler, yet still went on to win the Olympic bronze. Turns out she skied the winning race with four broken ribs and a collapsed lung to boot. Wow!
Real Heroes Suck It Up
Finally, let’s compare these crybabies to the Olympic heroes of past and present. Take, for instance Jesse Owens, the African-American track and field athlete who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics during the height of the Nazi regime. While Hitler was denouncing the African-American race as inferior, Owens beat out the German favorite and won four gold medals at those summer games.
Before Michael Phelps, there was swimming hero Mark Spitz at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich — the same games where 11 Jewish athletes were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists and subsequently killed during a botched rescue attempt while the world watched in horror. Spitz, Jewish himself, won a record seven gold medals despite the atrocity taking place around him. In fact, he was whisked away before the closing ceremonies because of a feared assasination attempt.
Not American, but possessing an American spirit, is Yao Bin, the Chinese pairs figure-skating coach. He has spent his life developing a program from whole cloth — and now has won 2010 Olympic gold and silver for his country. Twenty-four years ago, Yao was among the first Chinese pairs skaters to compete in the world championships. With only photos from which to learn skating moves, the pair was so bad that the audience literally laughed them off the ice. Did he give up? No. He returned home, became a coach and quietly persevered until he knew China’s skaters would be good enough to win. No if, ands or buts about that now.
So many past American Olympians — from Jim Thorpe to Bonnie Blair, Dan Jansen to Dana Torres, Apollo Ohno to Sean White — rose to the Olympic challenge against great odds. Classy athletes who represent the finest our country has to offer. Not whiny elementary school children stamping their feet because the other guy won.
Stefanie Schappert is a freelance journalist based in New York. Credits include NY1 News, Fox News Channel, and Vaccinated TV. She has worn many hats inside the newsroom: producing, writing and editing. She also has been out in the field covering stories behind the camera as well as producing and reporting. Schappert’s conservative viewpoint came into sharp focus following the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the resulting political climate. While working on the acclaimed NY1 documentary 9/11: A Day In Time, Schappert quickly embraced her role as the wife of a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier (Green Beret) deployed to the Middle East. This former NFL Cheerleader and classically trained dancer is known to hang out with quite a liberal crowd and has been the buzzkill during many a dinner party. Lipstick Conservative does not necessarily represent the views of The Clyde Fitch Report.