Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

When the Margins for Error Are Nil ; the Interstate Speeds of Many Sports Have Produced High-Profile Crashes. but the Games' Difficulty Is Also Their Allure

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

When the Margins for Error Are Nil ; the Interstate Speeds of Many Sports Have Produced High-Profile Crashes. but the Games' Difficulty Is Also Their Allure

Article excerpt

The Winter Olympics is a tough gig.

Here you are, darting among a forest of plastic slalom poles like some scared teenager fleeing for his life in "The Blair Witch Project," and somewhere along those 55 turns - you don't even know where - your ski went a few inches to the right of where it was supposed to go, and now you are seen as a failure.

Or perhaps in short track, you happen to run into a rugby scrum while riding a thread of steel thinner than a credit card, and you stumble, causing 250 million people who didn't care about you a month ago to tear out their eyebrows.

Or maybe you just crash into a million pieces on the downhill training run.

Yes, Bode Miller, Apolo Anton Ohno, and Lindsey Kildow are elite athletes, so there are expectations - many justified. But perhaps the lesson of this Olympics so far is an appreciation of just how minuscule the margins for error are in the winter Games, where the slightest twitch at interstate speeds can mean disaster.

It is, on one hand, a frustration. No one wants to see a nation's brightest athletes stumble and slide out of medal contention. After all, the Olympics are more about building a mythology than appreciating the sports themselves, and a string of Did Not Finishes is hardly the stuff of Homer and Sophocles. There was no ancient Greek god of mediocrity.

Yet the difficulty sewed into the seams of winter sports is also their greatest allure. At times, the women's downhill Wednesday looked more like a rodeo than a skiing event.

After a World Cup event at the site last year, skiers complained that the hill was too easy. The response was to add everything but Scylla and Charybdis. On the first training day of the Games, the defending gold medalist plowed into a snow fence at top speed, and Kildow was airlifted to a hospital after one of the course's new rolls jounced her, boots over head, down the slope. …

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