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By Greg Ditrinco
Excuse me, but what did the U.S. Team really accomplish at Salt Lake? Sure, the U.S. had never won more than six medals, so Team President and CEO Bill Marolt’s pledge to win 10 is to be cheered. But sometimes a numeric victory isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask the Democrats (Gore: 50,996,116 votes; Bush: 50,456,169).
After the Games, Marolt wisely followed Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s advice on Vietnam: “Declare victory and go home.” But when you squint hard at our Olympic results, is there much to crow about? Yes, our snowboarder and freestyle teams are the best anywhere (heck, we invented the stuff). Marolt should polish the nose rings daily of these “new-school” athletes, who won eight out of the 10 medals that the U.S. brought home.
But alpine remains the premier Olympic discipline, grabbing the most headlines and funding. In these glamour events, the U.S. fell as flat as a Nebraska ski slope. Austria’s Stephan Eberharter single-handedly beat our total alpine output. And Croatian whiz Janica Kostelic won twice as many medals as the U.S. alpine program. In fact, I stood on as many podiums as the U.S. alpine women racers did. (And my training budget was $4.75¿for cheese-fries at Winter Park, Colo.)
So go ahead, applaud the team’s improvement. The alpine squad is the most competitive since the 1984 Sarajevo Games, when the Mahres, Bill Johnson, Debbie Armstrong and Christin Cooper thumbed their noses at the Euro ski snobs. And three cheers for Bode Miller: his silver medals in giant slalom and the combined were the first U.S. men’s Olympic medals ever in those events. Still, push Bode off the lift in Salt Lake and we rank right up there with the Jamaicans.
So applaud our 10 medals or consider us underachievers? After all, we had home-field advantage. Cheering crowds and a native’s feel for terrain provides an edge. (Each host nation has improved its medal count from its previous Olympics.)
True greatness is measured by consistency, not a spike on the Olympic EKG. So how about pledging to win 15 medals in Torino, Italy, in 2006, Mr. Marolt? Mamma, mia, that would be something to crow about.