Winter Olympics Preview, February 1998
Every rose, a great philosopher once said, has its thorn. By the same token, for nearly every heroic Winter Olympian who captures the hearts and cereal boxes of an adoring public, there's usually a cheater, a spoilsport, a crybaby, or even a flat-out yutz. This rule of thumb reached critical mass, of course, in the '94 Lillehammer Games, where the Tonya and Nancy Show established for all time that (a) just a collapsible baton, a shoelace, and a few venomous words picked up by a network microphone can make for delightful melodrama; and (b) even winners can be losers. But actually, those patron saints of asininity are only upholding a long tradition of Olympic misbehavior. Some of the more heartwarming outtakes:
1932, Lake Placid: In the middle of the second heat of the men's 1,500-meter speed-skate, the American judges inexplicably stop the race, alleging that the participants are "loafing." When the race restarts, American John Shea finishes first, the last time a Yank wins the 1,500 for the next 48 years.
1948, St. Moritz: During the ice hockey finals (Switzerland versus Canada), some 5,000 Swiss fans watching from surrounding cliffs voice their displeasure, with characteristic Swiss passion, by pelting officials with snowballs each time they disagree with a call; Switzerland nonetheless loses, 3-0.
1952, Oslo: Imparting a lesson in physics that the International Olympic Committee will never forget, four German bobsledders cleverly loophole their way to the gold medal by realizing the potential of their combined weight (1,041 pounds, 8 ounces). That same year, the International Bobsled and Tobogganing Federation drafts a rule forbidding future bobsled squads from weighing more than a relatively petite 880.
1956, Cortina d'Ampezzo: Despite the previous failure of Swiss projectiles to influence the outcome of an event, spectators at the pairs figure skating finals revive this strategy with fresh produce; when the German team places fourth, members of the audience assault the judges and referee with hurled oranges. Earlier in these same Games, Italian speed skater Guido Caroli trips over a cable on the ice rink as he carries the Olympic torch; no one throws fruit or any other foodstuffs at him.
1960, Squaw Valley: After winning figure-skating gold, Queens resident Carol Heiss aspires to imitate the Hollywood success of legendary Olympic skater Sonja Henie (whose 1937 blockbuster One in a Million earned her roles in nine more movies). Heiss indeed scores a leading role, then soon retires after her only picture, Snow White and the Three Stooges, fails to establish her in the industry.
1988, Calgary: Noted Olympics scholar Kathie Lee Gifford, paired with her husband, Frank, for late-night recaps on ABC, observes that German figure skater Katarina Witt looks fabulous "for a girl who eats ice cream every day."