By Skip Bayless
Page 2

OK, I admit I watched the Winter Olympics on Sunday night.

But certainly not to see some spacey kid with slacker hair and a cute nickname win an event called the half-pipe that obviously was added so American X-Gamers could beat the Scandinavians in something frozen.

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I'm sorry, but I don't give a flying tomato about the USA's Shaun White.

I watched NBC's coverage on Sunday night only because ESPN.com informed me on Sunday afternoon that three of America's biggest marketing creations had fallen on their, uh, ice.

No more Michelle "Medical Bye" Kwan.

Bode Miller "wasted" his downhill opportunity, finishing fifth.

And Apolo Anton Ohno -- are we sure that isn't a stage name? -- short-circuited in the short track.

I admit I enjoyed these early wipeouts because I'm allergic to contrived stars and story lines. Don't tell me how irresistibly great they're going to be. Show me.

Give me Dwyane Wade scoring his team's final 17 points on Sunday to beat the Detroit Pistons by two.

That's not some winter-wonderland fantasy. No villainous Eastern European judges. No phony fairy tale for flag-wavers. No melodramatically manipulative my-uncle's-mother's-cousin-just-died-of-brain-cancer story. No obscure sport that very few Americans care about until TV tells us to every fourth February.

Bode Miller
AP
Bode Miller didn't live up to the hype in the downhill.

Just some of the world's truly greatest athletes playing a game that requires a ball. I don't trust sports that don't require a ball. Heck, I preferred watching Sunday's Pro Bowl -- a game that NFL players don't want to play -- to the Winter Charades.

At least the NFL's stars are the proven greatest of millions and millions of kids who try to play football. How many Americans grow up with a goal of winning a bobsled gold? Eight? Ten?

The good news: "American Idol" probably will crush the Winter Olympics in the ratings. The bad news: Repeat previous sentence.

Really, "American Idol" is the mutant offspring of the Winter Olympics, returning to devour the original. Why did the Winter Olympics captivate living-room America? Because it created stars out of unknown amateurs and gave Mr. and Mrs. Gullible and their kids Innocent and Na´ve the feeling that they, too, could have escaped their humdrum existence and overcome evil foreign judges and struck Olympic gold. Sound familiar?

Now, the Winter Olympics should counter by hiring "Idol's" Simon to be a miked figure-skating judge. Sure, let Simon humiliate the contestants and make them cry as they await their scores.

Sweetheart, I'm giving you an 8.8 because I've seen less makeup on a streetwalker and if that was a triple salkow, I'm Queen Elizabeth.

Now that would be great television.

But please don't force an aging Kwan on me with a "medical bye" and tell me she's going to be the darling of these Olympics. She wasn't able to qualify. The committee gave her a pass in part -- perhaps in large part -- because Coke and Visa had made her the face of their Olympic ad campaigns.

And of course, because NBC wanted to build its figure-skating coverage around this sappy story line: With one last shot at age 25, can poor, sweet Michelle, with a silver and a bronze, finally break through and win gold? Win or lose, Mr. and Mrs. Gullible and their kids would have cried with Michelle -- and bought whatever product she told them to buy.

Kwan reinjured her groin and had to withdraw. But I don't feel a bit sorry for her because (1) she didn't earn her spot on the team and (2) she has made millions without even winning a gold.

Then again, at least Kwan had proven she could finish second and third in an Olympics. Bode Miller was as fake as the snow on the Olympic downhill course. Miller was the first American to win gold before the games -- or so it seemed.

The American Olympic team had its Sweetheart. It needed a Bad Boy. Enter Nike's Bode.

Incredibly, he talked his way onto the covers of Time and Newsweek and into the lead story on "60 Minutes" with heavily coached statements about "skiing wasted." Sure, you hook the kids by saying you compete under the influence, then you appease their parents by saying you really didn't mean that.

Miller lived down to his reputation when, reportedly, he was seen in a pub until midnight the night before Sunday's downhill. Then he said he overslept and missed the pre-competition equipment check. All that could have been scripted.

But not this: He finished fifth and said -- with an honest shrug that surely had his marketers cringing -- he had no shot of finishing better than second.

I kept waiting for NBC's director to yell, "Cut! OK, guys, downhill, take two. Remember, Bode wins."

Ohno wasn't so much overhyped as overconfident -- more a victim of his pre-games fame. Ohno wanted to show his fans he was so cool during a short-track qualifying race that he could even adjust his helmet while skating, then get serious and blow past the leader in the final two laps.

Apolo Anton Ohno
AP
Apolo Anton Ohno stumbled when he couldn't afford to.

Ohno didn't need to take that risk. He fell. No finals.

Oh, no, said his endorsement companies.

I was there the night Olympic amateurism died in 1980. That was the first of three Winter Olympics I covered. That was the last one I enjoyed.

That Friday night in Lake Placid, a busload of truly amateur American kids pulled off the greatest upset in sports history, shocking the big, bad Russian pros in hockey. Yes, the Cold War threat posed by the Soviet Union made the triumph far sweeter. Now, that's history.

But so is the Olympic Ideal -- the concept of amateurs competing for their countries instead of their endorsement deals. Come to think of it, maybe it really never existed.

But now, who cares whether Canada, whose national game is hockey, can field a team of pros that beats our pros? For that matter, if America's greatest NBA players really wanted to win the Summer Olympics, I'm confident they could.

But what's it matter? We have our NBA and our NHL, our Major League Baseball and NFL and PGA. We have the world's greatest pros, year-round. Yes, we also have our thugs and our druggies and our overpaid, underachieving prima donnas.

But at least they're real.

The Gullibles can have the Winter Olympics, and vice versa.

Skip Bayless can be seen Monday through Friday on "Cold Pizza," ESPN2's morning show, and at 4 p.m. ET on ESPN's "1st & 10." His column appears twice a week on Page 2. You can e-mail Skip here.




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WINTER CHARADES