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Original Issue


By George, you'd better shape up by 1992—or else!

Fifteen minutes alone with Alberto Tomba's black book to the first person who can explain America's dreadful performance at the Winter Olympics. You haven't heard? The U.S. got its stars striped at a Communist bloc party in Calgary. The U.S.S.R. got the most medals (29), and the East Germans were next (25). The U.S. finished with six medals, just ahead of Netherlands Antilles. Some Americans in Calgary were so distraught they wore their pin-collection scarves at half-mast.

The U.S. medal crisis is of such proportions that the USOC last week announced the formation of a committee to look into this and other matters. It's headed by an internationally known Olympic expert, a man of immense standing in the international sporting community, an organizational genius—a Mr. George Steinbrenner. George, of course, is the perfect person to take over the Yanks. Who knows winter sports better than a shipbuilder who lives in Tampa? And who has been a bigger luger lately than George?

The first thing George should do is put Yogi Berra in charge of the ladies' short program. No way. I'm not having nuttin' to do with lingerie. Then assign Billy Martin to international diplomatic relations. Right. You're Prince Albert. And I'm Orville Redenbacher. And then appoint himself as head Red buster. Gonna make some glasnost toast. Anybody who doesn't like it can step into the elevator.

Above all, George has to get to the bottom of this trouble America has with the Winter Games. How can the U.S. maintain its self-esteem, knowing it's not the best in the world at racing while lying on a sled in a rubber frogman's suit? Why is it so woefully crummy at sliding a 42-pound stone across ice while players sweep frantically in front of it? Granted, curling was just a demonstration sport in Calgary, but does this mean American kids aren't getting access to the right kind of brooms?

And who can bear to live in a land that can't produce a finisher better than 25th in the biathlon? This is an essential sport for America's youth to learn. Have a kid ski as fast as he can, hither and yon, on narrow trails through the woods, up steep hills, until he's dizzy from exhaustion, and then...have him stop and fire a rifle. National security is at stake. As things stand, if Lapland ever invades, the U.S. is in the soup.

Mind you, there are some sports America could excel at if the IOC would approve a few changes. For example, how about combining the bobsled and biathlon? The idea would be to slide down the chute at breakneck speed while trying to shoot as many course-side targets as possible. Very low crowd-control costs. The U.S. would be good at jumper catching, too, as an ABC cameraman demonstrated the other day when a 90-meter jumper landed right on top of him during a windy practice session. And while Americans don't stand out at speed skating, plenty of them are terrific at slow skating, especially members of the U.S. hockey team.

In the meantime, George, you have got a job to do. Where should this massive winter-sports overhaul begin? Should the U.S. start erecting neighborhood 90-meter ski jumps? Oh, go ahead, little Kimberly. The first time seems scary to everybody. Or should America get the ball rolling by building luge and bobsled runs around the country? There's already one facility in Lake Placid, so that's a start. Maybe all the baseball diamonds should be torn up and replaced by Olympic-sized indoor speed skating ovals at about $35 million per.

How about a motto like King of the Hill in Albertville or Won't Be Blue in '92? Can't let another Winter Olympics go by without being the best. That's important, because the Winter Olympics showcase the finest athletes in the world. Such as Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards, who surprised everybody not only by jumping in the 70-and 90-meter competitions, but also by landing. Such as the Jamaican bobsled team, which spent almost as much time training as it did designing T-shirts. Such as Harvey Hook, 52, who competed in the bobsled for the Virgin Islands. Like the Chicago Bears' Willie Gault, who made the U.S. bobsled team after dedicating literally weeks of his life to it. I mean, these athletes are serious.

Could the U.S. be wrong about this, George? Could it be that it doesn't make sense for America to be a world power in the Winter Olympics? Do you see Finland reaching for the razor blades after the Summer Games? Maybe the current situation is fine. Maybe winning only now and again makes a gold medal that much more precious. Maybe a little humility every four years isn't so awful. Could it be that the only ones who are embarrassed are those blustery guys in the USOC blazers?

Come to think of it, George, let's forget the whole thing. You've got a baseball team not to meddle with.