by Katie Baker
At first I was fairly heated up about the Sports Illustrated cover shot of shredding sensation Lindsey Vonn. Absurd from every angle-and boy, are there ever angles-it’s got her all glammed up in a pretty power princess kind of way, all glossy hair and painted lips. You have to squint your eyes toward the base of her Red Bull-endorsed headthing to see, but I’m pretty sure she’s wearing diamond hoop earrings. All that aside, there’s other bait: consider, as someone pointed out, the unfortunate juxtaposition of a certain set of letters.
But now I’m pretty much over it. For the real crime, as it turns out, is the blandest of all: unoriginality.
He’s wearing a helmet, but still, fair enough.
(Props to the mag, by the way, for the slick and searchable “SI Vault”; it’s amazing the number of outrageous ski-themed covers from the 50’s and 60’s. Should you be so inclined, do check out 1957’s “New American Look in Ski Clothes”. Ooh, I like this lady’s lipstick! And I know 1968 wasn’t the brightest of years, but come on: Jean-Claude Killy sure makes up for a lot.)
It’s always so awkward when athletes doll up. Was there anything worse than Kerri Strug in street clothes? Vonn pulls it off mostly, but for all of her marketable polish she remains kind of a goof. A goof who likes to go 150 on the autobahn!
But enough about skiers. I’ve covered that ground, which is more than can be said for the snow in Vancouver. Things are getting so bad that they’re building jumps with hay bales and trucking in snow. Olympic officials (who must be freaking out) are gritting their teeth and making harried statements. “It’s beautifully white and clean and it looks great on television,” said Renee Smith-Valade.
She meant the snow, not Joe Biden, who will be leading the US delegation in Vancouver. Given his considerable foreign relations expertise and his ongoing involvement with the Special Olympics, I can’t think of a more suitable man for the job.
As far as I have been able to ascertain via Google, this particular diplomatic assignment involves hanging out with Mike Eruzione and Peggy Fleming, and oh my God, is Biden going to wear a warmup and march in the parade!? This column on the wonderfully manic Brian Burke seems to suggest as much, but I’m not going to get all my hopes up just yet.
Given the lack of meteorological cooperation-cue the “shoulda had the Olympics in DC!” yuks-many athletes must be glad they’re competing indoors. And while someone has already got the Johnny Weir beat covered, less attention has been paid to some other blade-wearing athletes.
The US speedskaters, who along with Vonn are the country’s top medal contenders, got bad news in October when large sponsor DSB, a Dutch bank, went kaput. The speedskating federation, faced with a $300,000 hole in its budget, was bailed out by an unlikely benefactor: Stephen Colbert. No stranger to odd publicity stunts, Colbert used his powers for good in asking viewers to donate to the cause. In the first week alone they raised $202,000.
It was not without controversy. Shani Davis, who holds several world records in long track and is widely expected to take home some gold medals, went on record against the talk show host. “He’s a jerk,” he told a reporter in early December. “You can put that in the paper.” No one, including Davis’s pal Apolo Ohno, was quite certain of the reason for the rancor; as it turned out, Davis was likely reacting to a 2006 bit in which Colbert faux-chastised him for not skating in the team pursuit event in Turin.
It was a touchy subject. The team pursuit “flap” in Turin resulted in a public feud between Davis and teammate Chad Hedrick that overshadowed Davis’ gold medal in the 1000m (the first gold to a black athlete in an individual Winter event in Olympics history) and culminated in a press conference so horrifically painful that it moved ESPN writer Eric Adelson to reach deep into history for a suitable comparison:
It’s funny. This type of rivalry goes all the way back to the beginning of U.S. history. More than 200 years ago, a Northerner named Alexander Hamilton and a Southerner named Thomas Jefferson disliked each other so intensely that a new nation nearly crumbled in their wake. And even though that rift still exists today, we have both of them to thank for the role they played in building America.
We can only hope to eventually say the same about the fallout from SkateGate II.
While Davis and Hedrick have yet to forge a new republic, they now exist on civil terms. And the rift with Colbert is a thing of the past-Davis even agreed to appear on the show.
Still, Davis remains a bit of a lone wolf, self-coached and self-represented. He has no ties to the US Speedskating Federation, and by request does not even appear in the media guide. His mother handles his press, which is to say: she is the one who denies the requests. (This go-it-aloneness, apparently, is like catnip to the Dutch: this ABC piece introduces us to characters like Ruud Bakker-no relation-the “leader of Kleintje Pils, a [Dutch] band that travels to most major skating meets and has serenaded the American for years.”)
The issue of Sports Illustrated pictured above contains lengthy profiles of Davis as well as Vonn; expect them, along with Ohno, Evan Lysacek, Shaun White-and who knows, maybe the bobsledder dudes?-to dominate coverage.
And in spite of my reluctance to reward the SI cover designers for their uninspired choice, it’s worth getting a copy of the Vonn-fronted SI, if only as a guide to who’s who in all the random sports, but also so you can flip to a second photo of her on page 52.
Because while much is the same as the cover shot-Red Bull screams prominently from the front of her head, her legs splay in impossible angles, and she’s still wearing pink; no word on the earrings though-in this one she is actually in motion, leaning into a turn, glaring out from behind her goggles, pressing her tongue against the roof of her mouth with the concentration of a four-year-old learning to write out her letters.
It’s a much better look.