Friday, February 21, 2014

Winter Swish-Whack, Take That, Week Two

It's week two of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia — also known as Vladimir Putin's Happy-Fun-Time-Papers-Please-Come-With-Us Sports Extravaganza — and it's time for another round of the Swish-Whack, Take That awards.

I give these awards every Olympics, summer or winter, in honor of US fencer Mariel Zagunis who, in 2004, won the country's first fencing gold medal in 100 years, but was only given 90 seconds of coverage on NBC. The awards are given to athletes who win gold under amazing circumstances, despite the odds, the critics, and even the fates working against them.

I'm giving the first Swish-Whack, Take That to that dottering old German speedskater, Claudia Pechstein, who, at the rickety old age of 41 years, 362 days, skated in her sixth Winter Olympics and finished fifth in the 5,000 meters race with a time of six minutes, 58.39 seconds. It would have been her seventh Games, but she missed the 2010 Olympics after a hinky blood result (she never actually failed a drug test, but was found guilty on circumstantial evidence).

Pechstein — who is four years younger than me — was actually in medal contention midway through the race, but she grew tired over the last few laps, and stopped to take a nap. Even so, she still beat her opponent, Yvonne Nauta, a 22-year-old Dutch skater, by three seconds. She was also less than three seconds away from taking the bronze.

There is no truth to the rumors that bronze medalist Carien Kleibeuker of The Netherlands wakes up at night, screaming, "Nay, Pechstein! Nay!"

At forty-two, still a medal contender, and skating on the world stage when most other skaters would have retired, the German Federal Police sergeant hasn't ruled out skating in Pyeongchang, China in 2018.

"Why would this be the end? I'm not going away," she told reporters. "I am still the best in my country and I am the oldest which isn't good for the young ones."

Maybe I should call Pechstein's award Swish-Whack, Oh Snap!

The next Swish-Whack, Take That goes to another geezer, 40 year old biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway. The man who has 52 Olympic and world championship medals picked up his 13th medal and eighth gold in the biathlon mixed relay this past Wednesday.

Just like Pechstein, this was his sixth Winter Games, although his first Olympics was in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway; Pechstein's was 1992 in Albertville, France. But the Grand Old Man of the ski-and-rifle set is still showing the youngsters how it's done.

The third Swish-Whack, Take That goes to French snowboarder Pierre Valutier who won Olympic gold in the snowboard cross event on Tuesday.

With a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).

That's right, Vaultier won gold with the the very same knee injury that knocks NFL quarterbacks out for an entire season.

"Right now I feel alright," Vaultier told reporters. "If I can continue (with the injury), then I think I will. There is nothing sure yet, I will meet my surgeon afterwards and we will talk about that. Right now I feel okay and even better with a gold medal."

Vaultier currently plans on going through rehab for four weeks and then playing quarterback for the Washington Redskins.

Finally, since this year's awards have already taken a bit of a political turn, I'm going to follow it up with another. I'm giving one more SWTT to the protestors, activists, and athletes who have told the world about their disagreement with Putin's anti-gay propaganda laws.

Last week, I awarded it to all the athletes who wore rainbow-themed items at the Opening Ceremonies. And the athletes and activists have successfully defended their title for another week.

That's because the International Olympic Committee is now considering adding an anti-discrimination clause to all future bid rules based on Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter.

According to a Reuters story, Principle 6 says "sport does not discriminate on any grounds, including race, religion, politics, or gender." Critics of the IOC said the organization has turned a blind eye to Putin's blatant discrimination, and now the Committee is considering the anti-discrimination rule as part of their Agenda 2020 initiative.

"It (Principle 6) is not something that is specifically looked at but if there is a groundswell of opinion it could be," IOC President Thomas Bach told Reuters.

A groundswell of opinion like that coming from various protestors and advocates who were arrested during the games. From politicians who spoke out against Russia's Draconian laws. From athletes who risked being carted off just for wearing a rainbow button or pin.

Last week, they received the award for standing against bigotry and hatred. And they're getting it again because the IOC, the lumbering dinosaur of unchanging tradition, has heard them and will do something as a result.

Because if anyone can get the IOC to change their mind about something, that definitely deserves an award.

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