This archived article was written by: Sam Pollak
I realize this attitude probably indicates a major flaw in my character, but something has been bugging me for the longest time.
In every Olympics – Winter or Summer Games, it doesn’t matter – one thing gets me all cranky.
I’m sitting in front of my low-definition TV and watching American Johnny Spillane skiing hell bent for leather in something called the Nordic-combined normal hill event.
Is there such a thing as a combined – or for that matter, separated – abnormal hill event? I have no idea, but if there’s an American competing in it, I want him or her to win.
For the record, I don’t much care whether it’s boxing, beach volleyball, snowboarding, synchronized swimming or rhythmic gymnastics (you know, the “sport” with all that silly waving of colored ribbons), I’m rooting for the Americans.
No xenophobia here, folks. I just prefer our guys and gals win, and now, I’m a big fan of the Nordic combined normal hill event.
So anyway, here’s Spillane opening up a decent lead in a race that no American has ever even medaled in, and it looks for all the world like he’s going to get the gold medal.
People are cheering. Cowbells are clanging. (For reasons lost to the mists of history, people like ringing cowbells at the Winter Olympics.) America’s Johnny Spillane sees the finish line up ahead.
Unfortunately, and seemingly out of nowhere, comes France’s Jason Lamy Chappuis.
Monsieur Chappuis was born in Montana but competes for France, so I get no joy when he whizzes past Spillane and wins the gold medal by a lousy four-tenths of a second.
I utter a word that in my youth would have had me learning about the taste of Ivory soap.
NBC’s announcers, however, are talking like they’re really, really happy that the U.S. has won its first-ever medal in the Nordic combined normal hill event.
But gee, the American (whom I had never heard of a half-hour before) has to know his silver medal means he blew a big lead and … well … lost. I mean, the poor guy must really be bummed out.
Actually, not so much.
“Today was a pretty good day for me,” Spillane said afterward. “Overall, I’m very satisfied with the result.”
You’ve got to be kidding me, Spillane. See, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what bugs me so much about the Olympics.
Hey, buddy, you came in second. That means you didn’t win. Since when has second place been something with which to be “very satisfied”?
It’s quite an achievement to be the second best in the whole world at something. That’s more than most people can say about anything. But no one remembers who was the first, second or third runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant.
Yes, of course I want our Olympians to graciously acknowledge defeat when it comes and sincerely congratulate the winners.
It’s called “class,” and is altogether fitting and proper.
No one can win all the time, and there’s nothing wrong with losing. But there’s something about being satisfied to be an also-ran that is downright antithetical to the American ideal.
“When you, here, every one of you, were kids,” Gen. George Patton told his troops in 1944, “you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big-league ballplayers, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. … Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. … ”
Could you imagine Peyton Manning saying: “Overall, I’m very satisfied with the result” after his team came in second in the Super Bowl?
Hey, Peyton, you got the silver medal, why aren’t you smiling?
How do you think the Philadelphia Phillies’ fans (of whom it has been written, “they would boo a cure for cancer”) would have reacted if their players had said: “Today was a pretty good day for us” after the Yankees defeated them in the World Series?
As it turns out, Todd Lodwick, the guy who came in fourth in Spillane’s race, is also an American.
Asked if he was happy after the race, Lodwick said with admirable sarcasm, “Of course I’m happy with fourth place.” Then, with utter honesty. “Of course it (bleeps).”
With that misery-laden, frustrated, unsatisfied statement, Todd Lodwick became my favorite Nordic normal combined hill event skier of all time.
Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y. He can be reached at [email protected].