In Defense of the Olympics

To the Editor:

Jeff Fein’s commentary in the February 24, 2006 edition of the Maroon-News on the Winter Olympics was disappointing for me to read. As a former member of the U.S. Snowboard Team, I’d like to defend gold medalist snowboarder Shaun White for a moment. He may not be the smartest kid in the universe, but, like most U.S. athletes, he has put his heart into his sport since he was a young child.

When I was on the team (for three years during high school), I trained for about eight hours a day, six days a week. I was “in season” from October through the end of April, and also trained for six weeks over the summer. I competed in Italy, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and Argentina, and I did it thanks to generous sponsors and the subsidized costs by the U.S. Team, on only about $5,000 a year. In the midst of my busy season, I still managed to serve as an RA at my boarding school, hang out with my friends, get involved in community service projects and earn a 3.8 GPA. I did not cheat myself out of a normal high school experience.

In addition, my competitors included those of all races and nationalities, and on the U.S. Team alone I competed with several African-American competitors, two Japanese Americans, a Filipino American, a Latina American, and, incidentally, the only openly gay snowboarder in the world.

I competed in Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super Giant Slalom and Downhill, all of which are just as difficult and legitimate as ski races. In defense of the Halfpipe, not only has it been heard of outside of North America, it is also one of the most popular and well-watched sports in the world. In Italy, Germany, Austria, Japan and Switzerland,snowboard racers are national athletic heroes, much like our football players. Norway and Sweden have produced some of the best halfpipers in the world. France has produced some of the fastest racers and Snowboard-Crossers to date.

My point is not to defend only snowboarding. It is to suggest that perhaps the Winter Olympic Games have not been given a chance. Yes, they are over-commercialized, and yes, NBC makes them more dramatic than they need to be. However, the athletes who compete in these sports do it because they love it, and people watch it watch because they are inspired, interested or perhaps even horrified by the challenges offered by the sports. It is an honor to compete in the Olympics, and the athletes who pursue sports that are often out of the public eye should be respected for pursuing their dreams, even when endorsements and monetary rewards are not a part of the picture.

Eighteen months before the 2002 Winter Olympics, my friend and teammate, snowboard racer Chris Klug, underwent an emergency liver transplant. Within a week, he found the motivation to start moving around the hospital. Within six weeks, he was back in light physical training. Eighteen months later, he won the bronze medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics. This is why we train. This is what the Olympics are about. And this is why you, Jeff, should give them another chance.

Lera Nichols

Class of 2007