Column: Winners & Losers of the Olympics

Introducing paintball to the biathlon, and other modest proposals
John U. Bacon

John U. Bacon

It was the best of Olympics, it was the worst of Olympics. For some, it was the season of hope; for others, the winter of their discontent. But to heck with all that. I’m just here to give you Coach Bacon’s Winners and Losers of the Winter Olympics. So, here we go.

WINNER: Vancouver

Great city, great people, great Olympics. Well done, my Canadian friends.

LOSER: Vancouver

In the opening ceremonies, the flame apparatus failed to rise, launching a thousand Viagra jokes. But the real joke was the speed skating oval, where the Canadians failed to manufacture decent ice. That’s like Jamaicans failing to manufacture decent sand. What’s up with that?

WINNER: Olympic Hockey

With the best players in the world, and six nations with an equal chance of grabbing the gold, the Olympics gave us hockey at its very best. The U.S.-Canada overtime final, with NO TV time-outs, made for an unforgettable finish – some say the best ever.


Only the NHL can take this singular moment and blow it. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the NHL might skip the next Olympics. Now you know why he’s considered the dumbest commissioner in all of sports. He did it the old-fashioned way. He earned it.

WINNER: The Medal Count

The U.S. set a record for most Winter Olympic medals ever, with 37, and the Canadians set a record for most golds, with 14 – redeeming themselves for being the only host nation to win no golds, twice, in Montreal and Calgary. Kudos, North America.

LOSER: The Medal Count

It took 20 Canadian men seven games of skating, passing and shooting to earn a single gold medal in hockey. Meanwhile, Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen had only to repeat the same basic motion in the sprint, the 10K, the 15K, the 30K, and the relay, to get five medals. Is cross-country skiing really five times harder than ice hockey? What’s up with that? I say all distance sports should be reduced to a short run, a long run, and a relay – that’s it. And hockey should count 20. There. That’d do it.

WINNER: Curling

Watching curling proved oddly compelling, like gazing at a lava lamp. And it gives all of us hope that – yeah, sure, I could be a world-class athlete. Look at that slob! He’s on the Olympic team?! Oh, yeah. I could do that.

LOSER: Curling

I’m sorry, it’s still just shuffle board on ice. And spare me your emails. My grandfather was a proud member of his New Brunswick curling team, but he didn’t expect to get a medal for it. He preferred beer, anyway.

WINNER: Ryan Miller

The former Michigan State star let in the overtime goal against Canada, but he was still the best player – by far – in the tournament, and rightly won the Most Valuable Player trophy.

LOSER: Miikka Kiprusoff

The Finnish goalie said he’d only join his national team if they named him the starter. He got what he asked for – then went out and let in four goals on seven shots against the U.S. He sucked at 400 pounds-per-square inch. Then he didn’t even wait for his coach to pull him, before skulking back to the bench. I have just two words for you, sir: Loo Zer.

WINNER: Ann Arbor

With seven players from the Ann Arbor-based U.S. National Development Team on the Olympic hockey roster, and two pairs of ice dancers all training at Ann Arbor’s Ice Cube, A-Squared was downright Olympian.

LOSER: The Biathlon

Making someone ski several miles, then stop to shoot at targets for no apparent reason, makes as much sense as making swimmers finish four laps, then get out and bowl three frames.

So I say, let’s spice it up a little. Each time the biathletes miss their marks, they should have to ski behind the targets before they’re allowed to shoot again. That would increase the stakes, and focus the mind.

Too much for you? Okay, how about giving them all paintball pellets to fire at their fellow competitors as they traipse through the woods? That way, no lead would be safe, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, and the leader would be forced to ski in a zig-zag pattern down the stretch while the trailers try to pick him off from behind.

Or we could just kill this silly sport altogether.


NBC gave us fewer taped fillers, and more live action.


Still too much fireplace, and not enough first place. Oh, give me the CBC!


Yes, the Olympics are over-hyped and over-packaged, but they’re still the best thing on TV. We see it all – the bratty skiers, the bodacious boarders and the inspiring skaters, like Joannie Rochette, who took to the ice just two days after her mother died of a heart attack – and delivered the single best short program of her life.

That is reality TV. And that’s why I can’t wait for 2012.

About the author: John U. Bacon lives in Ann Arbor and has written for Time, the New York Times, and ESPN Magazine, among others. His most recent book is “Bo’s Lasting Lessons,” a New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller. Bacon teaches at Miami of Ohio, Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, and the University of Michigan, where the students awarded him the Golden Apple Award for 2009. This commentary originally aired on Michigan Radio.


  1. By Steve Borgsdorf
    March 5, 2010 at 1:17 pm | permalink

    I think Bob Costas took the gold medal in fireplace-sitting (again), with Tom Brokaw narrowly edging Al Michaels for the silver, largely on the strength of the small town Canada 9-11 retrospective.

  2. By Liz Nowland-Margolis
    March 5, 2010 at 4:30 pm | permalink

    Stephen Colbert won the gold for actual fireplace sitting inside the fireplace to demonstrate NBC’s no holds bar on expense with a fake fireplace!

  3. By David K
    March 6, 2010 at 8:25 am | permalink

    For the record, I believe only one ice dancing pair trains at the Cube, but the gold (Virtue/Moir)and silver medalists (Davis/White) in ice dancing train in Canton, Michigan.

    Curling got popular because they got some steak instead of hamburger. Argyle pants, and better looking competitors didn’t hurt, like popular Cheryl Bernard, who looks like a saint: [Link]

    Regarding biathlon, it is difficult to aim when your heart is racing from a max cardio workout as XC skiing produces. It has long been part of the Winter Olympics, as a demonstration sport and adopted formerly in 1960 at Squaw Valley. [Link]

    Biathlon has Nordic roots, but also is important in the history of WWII. Just wiki 10th Mountain division for the details of how 4,000 soldiers were trained to shoot and ski and help beat back the German troops. Collectively, the Nordic events are also important to certain regions, such as the Adirondack hometown of Bill Demong, Saranac Lake, where an Olympian tribute parade was held yesterday. Lake Placid, 9 miles down the road from Saranac Lake, produced a bronze winner in Alpine downhill, Andy Weibrecht: [Link]

    In fact Lake Placid and ORDA (Olympic Regional Development Authority) spent a significant investment with a hospitality center in Vancouver, getting lots of TV and print/web media exposure as well (thanks Al Michaels too).

  4. By Ove
    March 6, 2010 at 3:48 pm | permalink

    Skiing behind the targets.. Brilliant! :)

  5. By Rici
    March 8, 2010 at 12:51 am | permalink

    all distance sports should be reduced to a short run, a long run, and a relay

    Would you recommend the same for the summer olympics, in track? Let’s say: 100m, 10K, and the 4×400 relay? That should suffice. After all, it’s just the same motion to get you around the track…