Cross Country: One Person against Wild Primal Performance Art

Article excerpt

The weather, for much of the time, has been rainy and snowy and miserable and awful and despicable in the Japanese Alps at the winter Olympics cross-country venue. Then sometimes it has deteriorated from these levels.

Doesn't matter. Nothing could be more wonderful than being up here in all this.

The reason is that nothing, neither weather nor general American incompetence, can take away from the glories of cross-country skiing. It defines what the Olympics are all about. In so many ways, it is the Olympics. When the winter Games started in 1924 in Chamonix, France, cross country was there. In the 17 subsequent Olympics, cross country was there. If the Olympics were trimmed back sport by sport, surely cross country would be the last one left standing. It is old-timey, reminding us of simpler days when there were no lifts, no heli-skiing, no artificial snow, no jet airplanes to competitions. But there was always cross-country skiing, out among the trees, a kind of communing with nature on winter days. Test of endurance, not technology Certainly cross-country skis have improved with technology, but somehow it seems less intrusive than it does with the oh-so-high-tech luges and bobsleds. It's still basically just skis, boots, poles, and warm clothes. Cross country is what we were. We'd go out for cross-country skiing, home in late afternoon for hot chocolate, settle down in front of a crackling fireplace, and read a classic Faulkner, Dickens, Joyce. Of course we read a classic because cross country is classic. That's how it was, wasn't it? Too, there's no way to fake the physical conditioning that cross country requires. In some other sports - baseball, football, basketball - poor conditioning can be covered up, often by claiming injury. …