Column RICK SOLEM
The Winter Olympics are a bit weird to me. Weird, as in not at all. Weird as in ordinary, to a degree.
In a way, a person can really relate to the events – skiing, ice skating, sledding … OK, bobsledding.
Take the skeleton, for example, where Prairie du Chien, Wis., native Matt Antoine was just named to the U.S. team.
Here’s one sentence describing the skeleton: A person lies on steel sled, goes down a frozen track head first at an excess of 75 miles per hour.
I can completely relate … until you bring up 75 mph.
We’ve all grabbed the sled or inner tube and ran to the edge of a hill, hopped on and prayed.
In college at UW-Stevens Point, we used to “borrow” lunch trays from the cafeteria and take them to the toboggan runs across town. We’d set the tray on the launch, hop on, then hit the lever that catapulted us onto the frozen track, and … God speed.
In essence, we were doing the skeleton, before it was, again, an Olympic event. The event – which can be traced back to 1892, and why not? It’s a guy hopping on a sled and going down some ice - took a hiatus from 1948 until 2002.
And that’s when the 28-year-old Antoine’s skeleton journey to the Sochi Games began.
“I first saw skeleton in 2002, when it made its return to the Olympics (in Salt Lake City) full time,” Antoine told NBCOlympics.com on Friday. “I’d always been into racing and winter sports. The U.S. had huge success in those games, winning gold. It was a huge story during the Olympics. It got a lot of exposure, and it really caught my attention.”
Here’s Antoine taking his first gold at Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 13, 2013.
You see? Totally like taking a lunch tray down a toboggan run. #Sarcasm. It looks very intense.
That run was part of a breakthrough for Antoine. And, according to teamusa.org, the PdC native is one of few who could challenge Latvian Martins Dukurs for the gold.
Dukurs, 31, from Latvia, has won the past four world championships. His brother Tomass, however, may be the second-best in the event.
Antoine’s is a story a bit about that annoying person that doesn’t give up, and a story that sort of makes the skeleton sound easy.
“I got told I wasn't good enough at that first tryout,'' Antoine told the Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds in mid-December, 2013. “I didn't believe it. We joke about it now. ... I got that taste of it for a week, I knew it was something that I loved and I didn't believe that I didn't have it.”
Like Antoine said earlier, he first saw the sport in 2002, but what he didn’t say was he saw it on TV and that was it. He wanted in.
He tried out the next year. He was sent home. He came back a year later and made the team. Simple. We all should become winter Olympians. #MoreSarcasm
Clearly left out are the endless hours of … I don’t know. What’s it take to be a skeleton?
I’m not trying to put down the event, because I want no part of it – not even on a lunch tray. It looks crazy, sounds simple. I mean, you sit on a steel sled and “Later dudes.” ... Hopefully.
But to me, to be a skeleton, you have to be fit, crazy and know which way to lean?
The skeleton seems one of the most extreme of the Winter Olympic events – with a close in “crazy” being ski jumping and freestyle skiing. Then there’s the bobsled and luge, which are just a bit less extreme versions of going down a frozen track on a steel tray head first. Head first being the key.
Beyond frozen track events, everything seems pretty ordinary save for the biathlon, which combines two rather ordinary things – shooting a rifle and cross country skiing – to make one strange event.
Is this for all those future James Bond and villain wannabes?
And wrapping up the events is ice skating (figure, racing and hockey), cross country and downhill (“Alpine”) skiing and, of course, everyone’s most relatable event, curling.
The Winter Olympics everyone - watch on TV or go steal a lunch tray and head to Grandad’s Bluff.
Let's go sledding ... for our country.