Olympic athletes live up to hype

Freedom New Mexico

Every couple of years leading up to the Olympics, NBC cranks up the hype machine and inundates us with imagery and stories of athletes it deems are either talented enough or telegenic enough — and in some cases, both — to serve as bait to lure passive sports fans to tune in to the network’s coverage of the Games.

To be fair, NBC is not alone in this, as corporate sponsors do their part to promote their athlete spokesmen and women, and themselves. Sometimes it works (U.S. speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno pitching DayQuil and NyQuil this year), sometimes it fails miserably (Reebok’s infamous “Dan and Dave” ads promoting two U.S. decathletes leading up to the 1992 Games in Barcelona — only Dan O’Brien ended up failing to qualify. Dave Johnson went and won bronze.).

For these Games in Vancouver, viewers have been blasted with nonstop updates about U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn’s bruised shin, speed skater Shani Davis calling team benefactor Stephen Colbert (yes, that Stephen Colbert) a “jerk,” and questions about whether snowboard superstar Shaun White would bust out his secret weapon aerial, the Double McTwist 1260 (which sounds like something available on McDonald’s Extra Value menu).

Long ago, Public Enemy urged “don’t believe the hype.” On Wednesday night, the hype became reality — and it did so in flamboyant fashion.

Vonn slashed through the women’s downhill finals, taming a treacherous course that saw six women lose control and crash, a couple of them sustaining serious knee injuries. Vonn’s gold medal run was about a half second better than fellow American Julia Mancuso, who took the silver.

Davis became the first athlete to twice win the Olympics’ 1,000-meter long-track speed skating event, capturing gold at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy, then mustering enough fortitude at the end Wednesday to repeat as champion.

White has achieved rock star status — not only among the snowboard community, but with most anyone who pays any attention to the Olympics. He’s a high flier in the half pipe, but grounded enough to still acknowledge his family and his hopes to make them proud with his achievements. His first run was good enough for the gold, but on his second run — basically a “victory lap” — he twisted and torqued his body and his board to pull off the Double McTwist 1260 (described by The Associated Press as “two board-over-head flips inside of 3 1/2 turns”) to the roar of the crowd and the ongoing amazement of his fellow competitors.

Vonn’s tears of joy, Davis’ sense of relief and White’s head-over-heals exuberance at reaching the pinnacle of their respective sports made these made-for-TV stars human for millions of viewers. In doing so, they proved that it’s not just hype if you make history.