The Miami Herald

A global event for everybody . . . in some parts

This Dave Barry column was originally published February 12, 2006

It's time once again for the Winter Olympics - three magical weeks during which all of America will gather in front of the television set to watch American Idol.

But during the commercials, some of us will also tune in to the Winter Olympics, a quadrennial competition that answers, once and for all, questions that burn in the brains of every true sports fan, such as: (1) Who will claim "bragging rights" as the world's best in the individual, sprint and team Nordic Combined? (2) What, exactly, IS the Nordic Combined? (3) Who the hell are the "Nordics, " anyway?

We are about to find out, as the Winter Games are under way in the picturesque Italian city of Turin (or, as they call it in Italy, "Vienna"). It's a truly international gathering of athletes from all over the world, except for those parts of the world located in Africa, South America, Central America, Australia and large sectors of Asia.

The games officially began Friday night with an unforgettable opening ceremony, climaxing with the lighting of the Olympic torch by Italy's greatest and most beloved ski champion, Wayne Gretzky. (Note to editor: Please check this; I nodded off during the second unforgettable hour.)

I wish I could be there to report on the Olympics in person, but my wife, Michelle, an actual sports reporter, is there, so I'm staying home with our daughter, Sophie. The other morning, as I was pouring Sophie a bowl of Lucky Charms, the phone rang; it was Michelle, urgently telling us to turn on the Today show. So we did, and we saw Katie Couric interviewing Scott Hamilton.

"I'm right behind Scott Hamilton!" Michelle shouted into the phone. "Can you see me?"

"Yes, " I said.

Sure enough, there she was in the background, holding a cellphone in one hand and waving wildly at the camera with the other. Michelle and I have often made fun of people who do this on the Today show, because they all look like pathetic, no-life geek losers.

"Do I look like a pathetic, no-life geek loser?" she said.

"No!" I said, because I am not a complete idiot.

But the point is, I am not personally in Turin. Nevertheless, I have prepared the following guide of Winter Olympic Events to Watch:

FIGURE SKATING: In this dramatic and demanding sport, competitors must perform difficult skating maneuvers while dressed as swans and wearing enough makeup to spackle a four-bedroom house. And those are the men. Judges enter their scores into a computer, which calculates the results using an objective scientific formula, after which the Russians always win because they CHEAT.

BIATHLON: This fun sport was invented by the Norwegians, often called "The Yuckmeisters of Western Scandinavia." Rifle-toting competitors ski for a while, then shoot at targets, then ski some more, then shoot some more, then ski some more, then shoot some more, then ski some more, then shoot some more and so on until France surrenders.

THE LUGE: Competitors wearing Spider-Man costumes lie on their backs on tiny sleds and go down the bobsled run. The ones who survive (about 8 percent) are tested for drugs. If they don't contain any, they are declared legally insane.

THE SKELETON: This is the same as the luge, except competitors go headfirst. The medal winners stand on a special "booster" podium because when they cross the finish line and hit the stopping barrier, their bodies are compressed to the height of a Pringles can.

CROSS-COUNTRY CURLING: In this grueling sport, competitors, using brooms to clear the way, race to see who can be the first to slide a heavy stone across Italy.

SKI-JUMPING WITH CELEBRITIES: This is a new sport, introduced this year to boost TV ratings. Competitors are sent down the ski-jump ramp, often leaving deep grooves for the entire length with their fingernails, then soar into space, where they encounter gravity. The heavily favored U.S. team consists of Erik Estrada, William Shatner, Nicole Richie, Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek and the naked guy from Survivor.

BROKEBACK BOBSLED: This is another new sport, about which little is known, other than that, according to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, it "involves sheep."

Of course these are just a fraction of the Winter Olympics highlights. There will be plenty of other action in events such as the 500 meters, the 750 meters, the 1,000 meters, the 1,250 meters, the 1,300 meters, the 1,325 meters, and the 1,325.874 meters, to name just a few of the more exciting lengths. NBC is planning 17,000 hours of coverage, and you will not want to miss a single minute. So strap yourself into your Barcalounger and enjoy the show!

And if you happen to be watching Katie Couric, and you see a brown-haired woman in a light-green parka in the background, holding a cellphone and waving at the camera, I have no idea who it is.




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