Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Page 2 Quickie: February 13, 2006
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
Who is the heir to Michelle Kwan, the new U.S. Olympic hero to fill the void she left this weekend?
Snowboarder Shaun White.
And he couldn't have come along at a better time. Because here's the problem with Olympic-sized hype:
Michelle Kwan? Drops out.
Bode Miller? Downhill dud.
Apolo Ohno? Skating slip.
And that's just the first weekend.
There's still time for the one-name wonders like Bode and Apolo to redeem themselves in competition (they each have several more events), but for now, they are disappointments.
Thank goodness, then, for White. "The Flying Tomato," all of 19 years old, came in with X-sized hype and delivered with a gold in the men's half-pipe (after nearly not qualifying for the finals).
For a new generation of fans raised on X Games, White translated the stodgy "establishment" of the Olympics into cool. White certainly made it look that way, wearing that American flag bandana over his face during his gravity-defying runs.
Watching White look genuinely thrilled after his qualifying run -- admitting that it was the most pressure-packed experience he's had -- was a reminder that it's cool to be joyous.
If anything, that's Kwan's legacy as an athlete.
And watching White's sincere exuberance after his medal ride, you get the feeling that the true U.S. Olympic spirit -- "the Kwan," as Rod Tidwell might say -- is in good hands with this kid and his X-raised peers.
Viewed together, Kwan's pullout and White's triumph represents a metaphorical passing of the torch from the old era of U.S. Olympic stardom to what's next.
Emily Hughes might be Michelle Kwan's replacement on the skating team, but Shaun White could easily be Kwan's replacement as the country's Olympic poster athlete.
Where does Shaun White rank in my updated Wheaties Watch? See Big 5, right, for the latest edition!
Kwan Drops Out
Perhaps Michelle Kwan should never have made this U.S. Olympic skating team. After missing the qualifiers and making it seemingly on rep, maybe she was given a free pass.
But she should get a ton of credit for stepping aside once she realized her body wouldn't let her perform in a way worthy of the position the USOC had given her.
"I respect the Olympics too much to compete," she said, in a quote every athlete -- Olympic and otherwise -- should keep in mind every time they hold out, apply hair-restoration tonic or anything else.
Kwan will never get that Olympic gold, but she'll enhance her legendary skating rep with this final gesture.
(Meanwhile, will any athlete bring in more mojo than Hughes? Not only is she flying in as a last-minute sub from snowy NYC, but she's got all that family backstory from being Sarah's little sister. Now that's Olympic-sized drama.)
Good: Chad Hedrick. One gold down, four to go. He started in his strongest event (5K), but I still can't believe he picked up the sport 4 years ago. Toothy smile made for endorsements, too.
Bad: Bode Miller. Ends men's downhill 5th. Could be worse: Teammate Darren Rahlves, favored ahead of Bode, finished 10th. Rumors that Bode was at the bars late Saturday night are ridiculous. Who cares? If anything, maybe his finish was caused by changing around different skis. (And throw the Austrians in there, too. Looking for "Best in the World?" Try the French guy.)
Ugly: Apolo Ohno. You get the sense that Ohno's slip in the semis of his 1500 event (he was reigning Olympic champ) was a little karma boomerang for the way he won in 2002. Fans in South Korea surely agree.
Today: Where's FHM Mag? Hottie sensations Gretchen Bleiler and the U.S. women's curling team will make their Olympic debuts. (The men's curling team already pulled a shocker, stunning defending champ Norway Monday in their opening match.)
College Hoops Wrap
POY: Morrison vs. Redick. Redick scored 35 silencing his Maryland "fanemeses"; Morrison scored 34 (12 in the final 3 minutes) leading Gonzaga past Stanford in front of a rabid Kennel. College hoops' player of the year? Still a toss-up.
Indiana turmoil? Could Mike Davis be joining Quin Snyder among the midseason resignations? He missed Indiana's home loss to Iowa with the flu. At this rate, if he doesn't resign soon, the boosters will take care of it before Indiana's NIT run is over in late March.
Tonight: UConn at Villanova. Between now and the end of the regular season, no two higher ranked teams in college hoops will play. Interesting contrast: Nova's shot-happy multi-guard lineup vs. UConn's "Super-Size" Big East-leading offense that also leads the league in blocks.
Heat Beat Pistons
The Heat needed that win over the Pistons to confirm two things:
(1) Yes, they can actually beat another title contender (they had been oh-fer-season vs. the Pistons, Spurs, Mavs and Suns previously). Now they can boast a 13-18 record vs. the other 15 NBA playoff-level teams.
(2) No, there was no reason for the Pistons to qualify four starters for the All-Star Game, except for a bunch of coaches voting them in back when it looked like they were going to win 72 games.
NFL Pro Bowl
You know it was a slow Pro Bowl when the biggest news after the game was the goo-goo eyes Shaun Alexander batted at potential free-agency suitors:
"I never really thought up until I got out here that I could be on another team, but it was really neat to see me with Carolina guys and having fun like that."
Didn't hurt that the entire NFC coaching staff was from Carolina, or that his NFC teammates included Delhomme, Smith, Peppers and Wahle.
(Needless to say, Alexander's jumping to the Panthers would instantly turn Carolina into the NFC's team to beat. But might Carolina want to spend its money on other priorities? Then again, what could be a higher priority than upgrading its 19th-ranked running game? Incumbent DeShaun Foster is a free agent and Stephen Davis is a retirement candidate.)
Meanwhile, there was a game, and it wasn't pretty: The NFC won 23-17 in a game featuring 10 turnovers. Appropriately, Derrick Brooks won MVP after his 59-yard INT return for a TD.
Shell to Raiders
Swagger to victory? "We've got to create that attitude and that's what I expect to do," Art Shell said at his re-introductory press conference as Raiders head coach.
Is there really a correlation between swagger and winning? Any team can act arrogant; it doesn't mean its going to win games.
No one would ever think the Seahawks have swagger, but they seemed to do OK using, oh, good game plans, finding talent and managing cap space. The Raiders might want to try that first.
When Zach Lund, the top U.S. skeleton slider, was banned from Torino because he took a hair-restoration pill that also can be used to mask steroids, it left me wondering one thing:
Why would any Olympic-level athlete in his right mind take anything even remotely possible to get him banned? He doesn't like that his hair is thinning? None of us do! Suck it up!
Let's see, what's worse: Being banned from the Olympics in a sport you have dedicated your life to mastering -- or balding? He *should* be banned... for being so stupid.
I have no sympathy for his whining: The policy was confusing! Why is he dabbling even close to the gray area? I have to believe that if there is a societal counterweight to the stigma against baldness, it's a gold medal.