I got to McThinkin’ a bit when I saw that USSA plans to honor all 31 U.S. Olympic snow sports gold medal winners at its New York Gold Medal Gala this October.
Of the 16 Olympic alpine gold medals won by Americans, 12 have come in the last half of Olympic alpine history.
The first half of that history was pretty light on American success. ‘Twas a different world, for sure. Some of the golds earned in the early years involved getting the last week’s training in by running laps around the deck of the ship that was transporting the athletes to the Games. Contrast that to the team out there today that might lodge a complaint if the Wi-Fi isn’t working for a few hours.
Call it the world being smaller if you wish, but there has been twice fold the gold medal success since 1984 as there was before that.
As the sport – and the world in general – have refined, larger pools of athletes have been afforded the opportunity to chase the Olympic ideal, of which the gold medal is the ultimate symbol of achievement.
The chance to win a gold medal has increased as well with the additional discipline of super-G joining the Olympic family in 1988 and now the team event which will debut in 2018 at PyeongChang. The gold medals won by Diann Roffe in 1994 and Picabo Street in 1998 simply weren’t available for Gretchen Fraser and Andrea Mead-Lawrence.
Another who fits that mold is the rapscallion Billy D. Johnson, an American folk hero even among folks who knew, or know, nothing about ski racing. Consider that Tommy Moe, who also won an Olympic gold in downhill, did so by recognizing a point on the Kvitfjell course where he could pre-jump a minor roll and pick up a fraction of a second. That’s pretty awesome.
The third U.S. downhill gold came from Lindsey Vonn in 2010, which we all got to see thanks to television and the internet. Yes, times have changed. We could argue if that’s been for better or worse, but the alteration is definite.
Athletes get much more support today than in the days when Stein Eriksen carried his own skis home on the train after the Games ended. These days our champions fly directly from the Olympic venue to New York City so they can make the circuit of late-night talk shows, though by then they have already accepted a plethora of congratulations via their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Fame is perhaps more fleeting than ever. Instantaneous – yes – but fleeting. A White House visit doesn’t inform anyone of success, it merely reminds us of the celebration.
Have we lost sight of the significance of an Olympic gold medal? Has the International Olympic Committee? What is it worth? Billy Johnson’s answer was: “Millions.”
It wasn’t. But it sure helped build his legacy. And that seems to carry on and on. The New York Gold Medal Gala attendees will get the chance to walk among several of these legacies. But don’t bother trying to get there on a budget at this point. It sold out at the $1,500 early bird individual and $15,000 bronze table sponsor levels weeks ago.
Magic names indeed.