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Those slopestyle kids set a great example

February 14, 2014 - Paul Giannamore
I had a lot of friends who said they just weren’t getting all fired up about the Winter Olympics this year.

To me, it’s the reason that a crappy winter is tolerable every four years. The Boss (at Home) and I have been glued to the highlights show each evening, starting with the stuff that took place before the actual opening a week ago today.

And, once I got over trying to impersonate Ivan Drago of “Rocky IV” every time President Vladimir Putin’s face appeared on the screen (Putin to U.S. athletes: “You vill lose. I mus’break you.”), I have really been enjoying the competitions so far.

The whole “slopestyle” thing in snowboarding and skiing has been impressive as anything.

First off, those kids all defy gravity.

Second, those kids are so refreshingly modern and friendly and creative that there is reason to believe that, despite people like Vlad and Barry and their governments, the world will survive.

And third, in addition to incredible athletic prowess, it is so refreshing to see three kids from different countries, who may or may not speak the same language, competing for a gold medal one minute and hugging and congratulating one another the next even after one has been declared the victor. (In this context, I have absolutely no problem with that Coca-Cola “America the Beautiful” commercial. See? Not about any of the stuff yinze got all “Pablo is this” and “Pablo is that” over.)

It’s not the fake international niceness one sees on the victory podium in one of my favorite sports, Formula 1 auto racing. It’s genuine.

And that is because of:

Fourth: These kids have amazing back stories.

When the United States Men’s Slopestyle Ski team swept the medals Thursday (men’s? They are just kids, boys, really!), it was impossible not to be a little choked up beyond just being impressed with their demeanor, their sportsmanship and their big smiles that came after they made believe gravity really is meaningless.

The victor, Joss Christensen, lost his father last year to a lengthy illness. He skied with a picture of his father in his pocket. Only someone without humanity could have avoided tearing up just a little when he hugged his mother. A 22-year-old kid, on the world stage, dealing with all that emotion with such composure.

The kid in second, Gus Kenworthy, is saving stray dogs from the Sochi apparatchniks who would have them put to sleep so as not to disturb the perfect Olympic appearance.

The kid in third, Nick Goepper, has the story that really got to me. It’s real Americana. His father lost his job at the outset of the Great Recession in 2008. To keep his dreams alive, young Nick went door-to-door in his hometown in Indiana, asking to do whatever chores people were willing to pay to have done. He built his own back-yard obstacles to practice his craft. His family did what it could to get him to the slopes, but he raised money to help himself. He represented all of those people when he came down the hill in Sochi.

Those young men are the representation of athletics at its highest pinnacle, and so far, their stories are the stuff you hope is being duplicated and held up as an example for younger kids to follow.

And yes, I know that every Olympics there’s a marijuana scandal and an athletes-who-cheat scandal and who knows what might happen.

For the moment, these three American boys made one old guy who has pretty much convinced himself that athletics has no benefit other than the physical betterment of the human body feel proven wrong.

And that’s like spring coming in a long, cold winter.

 
 

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