Thursday, February 22, 2018

Hirscher Skis Out | Lefsetz Letter

The expectations don’t square with reality.

Bode Miller is forever tarnished by his failure to win medals in Torino, even though his trove of Olympic trophies is positively staggering. He didn’t measure up to the hype. Can anybody measure up to the hype?

In business.

But rarely in art.

And almost never in certain sports. Like skiing.

I find it fascinating the amount of buzz skiing has gotten in these Olympics. The media is overloaded with stories on Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn, two American heroes who are deserving of the attention but…

Then there are the snowboarders, the halfpipe and slopestyle tricksters. Don’t confuse them with the downhill skiers, they’re more gymnast than slider. Furthermore, despite all the attention, snowboarding is fading. Statistics tell us that the children of Gen X’ers, who drove snowboarding, are reacting and wanna ski. Furthermore, snowboarding is such a huge pain in the ass. Strapping in and out, sitting in the snow, trying to make it across traverses. Burton came out with a new step-in binding, but so far it has not gained traction. And yes, this is a religious war, with skiing on the upswing, but the truth is snow sports are dying. Well, at least flat. They’re too expensive, too mature, and the snow itself is in short supply.

But in the sixties it was different. Skiing was the skateboarding of its day. There were hills everywhere, middle class denizens participated. But then with the installation of high speed lifts ticket prices rose and with the concomitant gap between rich and poor those less fortunate stopped skiing. And snowboarding. To the detriment of the industry. Resorts closed. Airlines started charging for baggage, and now skiing is for the one percent.

Except during the Olympics.

Now you’ve got understand, in Europe, not only Austria and Switzerland, but Norway, Germany, Italy and France too, skiing is nearly as big as football. You can make a killing, what with victory schedules and endorsements. Bode Miller is a household name over there, a legend, not a creep. And Mikaela and Lindsey are superstars.

But over here…

We only focus once every four years. And expect these athletes to deliver.

But that’s a misunderstanding of the landscape.

The downhill track was too easy. The wind was a factor. All the elements of skiing the average person has no awareness of came into play, and changed the results.

Did you see the article in today’s “New York Times” how Mikaela travels with 70 pairs of skis! Actually, she only took 35 to the Olympics, along with her full time tuner, that’s what it takes to win. Hell, Bode was calling the giant slalom and he remarked how one racer was doing so well because he was the only one on Volkls…it’s a technical game.

Then again, the “Wall Street Journal” wrote how those with knee injuries, those who’ve blown their ACLs, actually perform better! And they’ve all been injured, and they’re all a little scared, and no one wins every time.

Except Shiffrin and Hirscher in the slalom.

Well, not exactly, but most of the time. They’re automatons.

But Shiffrin didn’t. Was it the skis? Was it staying up late after winning the GS? Wasn’t she supposed to take home five golds?

As for Hirscher, he already won two. And now he was skiing in his favorite event, where he excels, the aforementioned slalom, and he hadn’t skied out in TWO YEARS!

Now you’ve got to know, the sport has changed. With breakaway gates and shaped skis. Credit Bode for that, he was the first to use the new equipment twenty years ago and went from zero to hero overnight. The spoils go to those willing to take the risks.

And now the risk of skiing out in the slalom is less.

And as the commentators are remarking on how Hirscher always finishes, you could see…

He was late.

You see no skier is perfect. The old adage is, “If you don’t fall, you don’t ski.” It’s kinda like golf, nobody gets it right every time. But there are so many more variables, and there’s so much more danger.

So Hirscher has his skis in the air, he’s throwing them sideways to try and make the next gate. And then he recovers. And then he loses it again. Funny how one little mistake trends through to the end, you rarely settle down completely, is it psychological or..?

And he’s got to hit it to win, go straight at the gates to compete, but that increases the danger. And then…

It’s over, he can’t make the next gate, HE’S OUT!

He screwed with the narrative. He slid down the hill, took off his boards and marched off in a huff. So would you, with all the pressure, all the glory almost in reach, and you blew it.

But that’s what life is about. Blowing it. You lose more than you win. Especially if you try new things, especially if you put yourself at risk. This is a sport determined by fractions of a second. Someone losing by two seconds is an also-ran, a competitor with no chance. You’ve got to lay it all on the line and when everybody is watching…

There’s tons of pressure.

But there are so many who don’t understand.

Lindsey Vonn doesn’t get her gold. Sure, she unfortunately ran first in the Super G, a race with no training run, she was the guinea pig, there was one truly difficult gate. But in the downhill…

Was it her skis? Her line? Was Goggia just that much better?

Someone knows.

But maybe no one. Bode, who is a spectacular commentator, doesn’t always get it right, just like in his own ski career. He’d flail and win. He’s saying someone is slow and then they turn out fast, you can never tell, kinda like Ledecka, the Czech snowboarder who won the women’s Super G, SHE was stunned by her victory.

But Hirscher’s moment of potential glory is gone. He won two golds, but not a third, he’s a success, but not a legend. It happened just that fast.

And he reminded us that not only is he human, but so are we.

And that ultimately we answer to ourselves.

And when the looky-loos, the once every four year people, are gone, those on the inside will know…

You’re still that great, you’re still that good.

But not every day.

Nothing is guaranteed.

And that’s why life is worth living.

“Why Mikaela Shiffrin Brought 35 Pairs of Skis to the Olympics”

“Why Lindsey Vonn’s Bad Knee Could Be a Good Thing – One Surgeon calls it the ski-racing paradox: how elite skiers who have torn a knee ligament come out faster and race longer than those who haven’t”


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