Five-ring Circus

Hail the Conquering Goofballs!

America’s endearing Olympic misfits.

Bode Miller

These Winter Olympics have been awfully confusing for American fans. Our anointed hero, Bode “I Am a Rebel and I Said So on 60 Minutes” Miller, has thus far left a giant sitzmark on the Italian Alps. Strangely, once the actual schussing and jiving began, the national side has been most successfully represented by people who attended San Dimas High with Bill S. Preston, Esq., and Ted “Theodore” Logan.

First, we had Shaun White, the halfpiper, who announced that he was planning to put his new gold medal to immediate practical use around the Olympic Village. Specifically, White said he was now going to chase some babes, in particular, figure skating star Sasha Cohen. Then there was Hannah Teter, White’s female counterpart, bubbling and, like, whatevering, and generally being very Vermont all over the place, and announcing that she planned to staple her gold medal to a wall in the family playhouse back home. “With a real staple gun!” she explained.

Now, it should go without saying that, if you’re going to include snowboarding in the Olympics, you’re not exactly going to attract the field from the Greater Milwaukee Open. One of the several endearing things about Teter is that, before the final run of her competition, she snuck off, jumped a couple of ropes onto another hill, and went snowboarding for fun. (And, please, no more griping from the homefront PTI peanut gallery about “made-up” sports. After all, there’s no other kind, as I was just saying to Jim Naismith the other day.)

Johnny Weir

So, the personalities of the halfpipers are what we all could have expected them to be. However, nobody reckoned with Johnny Weir.

This is quite possibly the single most eccentric American athlete since Dock Ellis came off LSD. Weir has already injected the word “princessy”—as in, “I get very princessy as far as travel is concerned”—into the vocabulary of the sporting press. He wears one red glove so as to represent the bill of the swan from which his performance music takes its name. After finishing second in the short program, 10 points behind Russian Evgeni Plushenko (which means that Plushenko can come out for the long program driving the Zamboni and still probably win the thing), Weir was asked if he was going to toss in a quad-jump in his final skate. He said it depended how he felt.

“I could very likely wake up feeling horrible like Nick Nolte’s mug shot and there will be no quad.”

Freaking Nick Nolte’s mug shot?


It was at that moment that I felt a pang of sympathy for those of my sportswriting brethren who went to Italy straight off the manufactured news of the Super Bowl. I mean, it’s not easy going from Joey Porter playing the role of Joey Porter to somebody who wears a red glove, talks about his princessy taste in lodging, and drops Nick Nolte’s mug shot analogically on your head before leaving with just the littlest shimmy-shake for the NBC cameras. Jesus God, Bill Cowher’s jaw just dropped and killed six people.

Surely, this is all going to prompt some dyspeptic grumbling. But we should all rejoice in it. This is now and always has been the greatest country in which to be completely off the wall. We are the place that acclimated itself to the bizarre concepts of Gov. Jesse Ventura, Rep. Sonny Bono, and President Ronald Reagan. We are the only society ever that could have produced Little Richard. We are better represented as a nation by this blizzard of youthful flakes than we ever will be by, say, Bode Nike on the slopes or the collection of dutiful accessories who will be skating for our men’s hockey team.

With any luck, the performance of these very unique Americans will once again prove to the world that we are not a nation of snarling, liquored-up senior executives who spend our spare time hanging out with the likes of Brit Hume. Perhaps more than a few foreigners will look at Hannah, and at the Flying Tomato, and at the baroque concerto that is Johnny Weir, and say to themselves, “Geez, that’s right. That’s the place that gave us Liberace and the Marx Brothers.” That was a great country, once.