One of the early highlights of these Olympics has been the news conference held by the laid-back dudes and dudettes of the United States snowboarding team.
The snowboarders are not your typical Olympic athletes. Your typical Olympic athletes are serious individuals who tend to drone on about ``focus'' and have been obsessed with going to the Olympics since they were small children. Whereas you get the feeling that the snowboarders did not start thinking seriously about the Olympics until they were on the plane headed over here. Some still do not seem to be 100 percent sure they even want to participate in the Olympics, because you have to be on a team and wear a uniform, and snowboarding is, like, about freedom and self-expression and just general dudeness , dude.
But the snowboarders said they were stoked to be here, as well as psyched and blown away. They gave an excellent news conference, in which they handled some real hardball questions from the snowboarding media (example question: ``You guys rule!'').
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The high point came when team member Ross Powers, who appears to be maybe 12 years old, kept having trouble pronouncing the word ``rivalry,'' and so, after three failed attempts, he said another word altogether, right into the microphone, a word that you frankly do not ever hear at Olympic news conferences, a word that I cannot use here in a family newspaper, except to say that without the concept expressed by this word, there would not BE any families, if you get my drift.
Other snowboarder-press-conference highlights included:
* Rosy Fletcher assessing the team's chances as follows: ``I think we're gonna kick some real butt here.''
* Betsy Shaw saying that her first Olympic memory was ``when Dorothy Hamill won something or other.''
* Adam Hostetter saying that he was looking forward to singing the national anthem, then asking whether ``anybody has the words written down.''
Speaking of words: Communication continues to be something of a problem for the U.S. press corps here, because the only Japanese word that most of us know is ``Toyota'' (which translates, literally, as ``Gesundheit'').
The U.S. Olympic Committee handed out a list of Basic Japanese expressions, but I have not found it to be particularly useful. For example, the list tells you how to say ``Where am I?'' (``KOKO WA DOKO DESU KA?''). But if you say that to a Japanese person, he or she probably will answer: ``ANATA WA KOKO NI IMASU. NAZE KUKONO DESUKA?'' (``You are here. Why do you ask?'')
I have found that the most useful expression is ``Arigato.'' It means ``Thank you,'' but I use it all the time pretty much at random. I've found that if you say ``Arigato!'' in a public place, conscientious Japanese people all around you, deeply concerned about being thanked without having done anything, will come scurrying over to give you directions or call you a taxi or carry your luggage. If you don't have luggage, they will buy you some, just to make you stop thanking them.
Although I have not mastered the Japanese language, I have been dabbling in ``haiku,'' which is a traditional form of Japanese poetry that has 17 syllables and expresses some spiritual concept, as in this example:
A dog is barking
Bark bark bark bark bark bark bark
Bark bark bark bark bark
I will close here with a haiku I wrote to express the Olympic spirit:
A snowboarder is
Trying to say ``rivalry''
Whoops! A real bad word