MAD DOG: Upgrading the Olympics

Every four years we, the American viewing public, are exposed to a lengthy display of fierce competition surrounded by an onslaught of TV commercials and pontificating commentators who pry into the most intimate personal details of the competitors' lives. No, it's not the Presidential election -- though that would be a pretty good guess -- it's the Winter Olympics.This year the Winter Games are being held in Nagano, Japan, a city which is best known as, well, the host of the Olympics. All eyes will be on the Games, or so hopes CBS, the network which probably paid enough to air the games to have made two or three episodes of ER. Well, as long as George Clooney didn't mind being paid off in unsold Batman action figures.The Winter Games are a relative newcomer to the Olympic family. Obviously the original Olympics in Greece lacked the skiing, skating, and luge events -- face it, after the third time you went flying downhill with your toga flipped up over your face you too would have voted against the event in favor of the relay race, wrestling, and basketball.Like everything else in life, the Olympics need to be constantly updated in order to keep people interested. How else can you promise the advertisers a big audience and justify the outrageous fees you're charging them to be the Official Automatic Blue Toilet Bowl Cleaner of the Olympics?This year there are two brand new events: snowboarding and women's ice hockey. There are several other events which, while not being seen for the first time, are probably unfamiliar, including the 200m Luggage Carry which is held at the Nagano Airport and the 5 km Slip en Slide which takes place between the parking lots and the event viewing areas. Just kidding. Kind of. Anyway, as a public service, here's a guide to the newer additions to the Games.Curling was a demonstration sport in six previous Games, and since no one paid attention, the International Olympic Committee (motto: "It's a sport because we say it's a sport") figured they'd slip it in as a real event and see if anyone noticed. The game originated in Scotland in the 16th century as a means to sell more Haggis-on-a-stick. It's basically shuffleboard on ice, with one person spinning, or curling, a 42-pound piece of granite across the ice while team members sweep the frost, moisture, and pennies thrown by the fans from in front of the rock. In a bow to tradition, vacuum cleaners aren't allowed.Snowboarding will be appearing in the Olympics for the first time this year. Only two events will be featured: the giant slalom, which is like downhill skiing, and the halfpipe, which is like skateboarding. Scoring is a little different than other events. Instead of all those confusing numbers, judges will rate snowboarders as rad, way cool, and totally awesome dude. If this is a success, expect to see other snowboarding events added in 2002, like the Slow-Ass Skier Slam and the Downhill Ski-by, which is an updated version of the biathlon, using the snowboard as a getaway after the drive-by shooting.Women's Ice Hockey is also new this year. It's like men's hockey with the added attraction of hair-pulling, fingernail clawing, and more teeth. At least to start with. Think Wayne Gretzky wearing lipstick.Freestyle Skiing, or hot-dogging as the uncool who want to act cool think they should call it, has been a medal sport since 1992. Since this is 1998, it makes you wonder how they hold the Winter Games every four years and still pull off this feat. Be that as it may, this event has two parts. First is the mogul, in which they make a run down a bumpy course while trying to catch footballs thrown by members of the Kennedy family. Just kidding. Actually, the judges throw the footballs. The other event is the aerials, in which they do acrobatics while in mid-air, being scored on air (height and distance), form (style and execution), and landing (feet first scoring highest but being the least likely to be shown every five minutes for the rest of the Olympics).Unfortunately, this year we're still not going to see the Skeleton Cresta, which is face-first downhill sledding with a weird name. This is pretty much the same as sledding down the big hill in front of your house during a big snowstorm when you were a kid except you don't have to dodge cars at the bottom of the hill. In the Olympics they use spectators instead. This event was actually held in 1928 and 1948 in St. Moritz and is being considered for the 2002 Games.After the Skeleton Cresta, which they're going to have to rename the Xtremely Flexible Flyer if they want to get anyone to pay attention, you can expect a slew of new events to join the future Winter Olympics. Look for Snow Diving, the Snowball Throw, Ice Fishing, and the 10k Noise Pollutant -- I mean, snowmobiling -- to receive strong consideration. When they wise up and add the 3-Day Relay Lodge Lounging event, that's when you'll see me in there.

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