Winter Olympics

It’s winter Olympics time and boy do I love them. I could write about all my favorite winter Olympic sports one at a time, and maybe I will, but today it’s all about the mixed team snowboard cross event.

By the way, I think I’m a winter Olympics guy in general, versus summer Olympics. Sure, track and swimming events have been super exciting for the US the last few games, and it’s always great to watch beach volleyball, but I’m not sure how many other sports I really try and watch during the summer Olympics. The winter Olympics is a different thing though. I try to watch as much as I can. (I just thought about all the diving stuff - I love the diving events in the summer Olympics.) For the winter though, I’m all over curling, obviously. Coolest sport ever. But I watch a ton of the skiing and snowboarding events. Downhill, slalom, cross, aerial jumping, the big hill long jumping, and this new-ish cross event. Speed skating is my jam, both long and short track, and since I’m primarily a 90s child I’ve always loved bobsledding (thanks, Cool Runnings) and the other events like it (luge, skeleton, etc).

I think I’ve realized that I tend to like the excitement of timed sports. When athletes race against a clock it’s easy to understand, there’s no ambiguity, and there’s no room for judges’ interpretations. When you get sports like gymnastics and figure skating (although diving in the summer has judges) I feel like it’s hard to really KNOW who wins, or who is the best, because for non-expert viewers all the stuff they do is so amazing. Do I really care if a toe is slightly out of place, or a spin isn’t exactly perfect? Hell no, because it’s indistinguishable to me. So I judge based off emotion. What athlete do I like more? Is anyone from the US competing? And I get biased based on those things. But when you race a clock, there is no corruption. There is no human deciding “you get to be faster.” I mean there are instances of that (drug doping, penalty assessment, etc) for some sports, and competition in general, but I feel like it’s cleaner when you see 4 people lined up together and the winner is the person who crosses the finish line first.

Last night I watched the US win a gold medal in the mixed team snowboard cross event, new for 2022, and it was awesome. I saw all the qualifying races, so I got to build up excitement and anticipation the whole time. Race after race it was “don’t fall, go faster” and the person who did that the best advanced. The US had two teams initially, one would not go into the semis, but the team that ended up winning was comprised of the oldest American athlete Nick Baumgartner (40 years old) and Olympic regular Lindsey Jacobellis (36 years old). Lindsey found the spotlight a couple games ago when she was in spot to win gold in the first year of snowboard cross, with a big lead, and she pulled a simple trick on the last jump on the course and fell. Someone passed her and she got silver when she was far and away going to win gold, and there was a certain amount of heartbreak for her. People were upset that she did that - why “show off” when you can just win gold for your country? That’s a whole other rant for me, because she won silver at the Olympics and what do all her critics do that is so great? But I digress.

Lindsey won gold a couple days ago, so she was feeling great already and had a successful Olympic Games, but Baumgartner was still waiting for his first medal. He’d been in four Olympics if I recall correctly, and this was legitimately his last chance for a medal. He actually thought he was done and was ready to go home after not medaling in another event when he learned that he and Lindsey would be the top seeded US team in this event. So they competed, they won their heats, they qualified, and they won in the finals. Both Baumgartner and Jacobellis had to pass competitors in their final races and it was so exciting. I was standing up and trying not to yell in my house as I cheered them on at like 11pm while everyone else was asleep. I was SO happy for Baumgartner that he got his gold medal, and for Jacobellis, even though she had nothing to prove after her amazing Olympic record following (and including) that unfortunate silver 16 (I think?) years ago.

This whole story is REALLY all about how it feels to watch, or compete in, a clear-cut sport against an impartial judge. I was thinking about cornhole and how THAT would feel compared to some of these other Olympic sports. I mean, I’ve watched cornhole tournaments on TV before just as I’ve watched Olympic sports, so would it be any different? Would it be more like watching gymnastics or figure skating, where I have this feeling of an unknown quantity that can sway the results regardless of performance, or would it be more like a race, where the winner is clear and there is no questioning the champion?

The latter, I think, because while you play against your opponents in cornhole, and play against the board per se, you’re really just doing math. It’s VERY clear when a bag goes in the hole, and when it’s on the board, and when it’s not a scoring throw. Then you add and subtract and that’s it. The highest number counts and you repeat until a predetermined and unchanging number is reached. First one to reach it wins. Having clear scoring in cornhole, just like using a stopwatch in a race, keeps the results pure.

So obviously the next logical step in all this is to make cornhole an Olympic sport. And while we think of it primarily as a warm weather sport (and it would look great being played on the beach next to the volleyball courts) it could be fun to watch athletes play in the winter, too. Because why not have more cornhole?