Words from the Wise: Two weeks in the spotlight

A fair Winter Olympics for Team USA but one that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

By DAVID WISEMAN
March 1, 2006 08:39
3 minute read.
israeli olympic skier michael renzhin

renzhin skiing 298 88. (photo credit: Peter Szellos)

 
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A fair Winter Olympics for Team USA but one that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, such as skier Bode Miller going 0-for-5 in his events. Then there was snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis carrying on like the title character from The Tortoise and the Hare‚ showboating with the finish line in sight and no one anywhere near her only for her to fall down flat on her face. And then there were the hockey players for the startto-finish disaster their tournament was. Team USA was guilty of passing over young, highscoring, in-form players such as Sidney Crosby and Eric Staal, in favor of veteran stalwarts like three-time Olympian Joe Sakic and 35-year-old Kris Draper. Chris Chelios may be one of the greatest-ever hockey players but at 44 years of age you would think there is someone out there better, faster and younger. Canada, too, had its fair share of problems in ice hockey. Dogged by the Wayne Gretzky betting scandal, the team never got out of first gear and was eventually put out of its misery by Russia in the quarterfinals. After Canada and the US were both eliminated before the medal round I wanted to check the record books to see if this was an anomaly or not. What I found was that the North American teams aren't as successful at Olympic ice hockey as I had previously thought, at least not in the last 40 years once the Big Red Machine took over. Canada won five of the first six tournaments and both the US and Canada medaled in the same tournament in seven of the first nine but it has occurred only once since 1960, four years ago. Between 1964 and 1988, only three medals were shared between the two. Since the "Miracle on Ice" in 1980, the US has only a solitary silver medal to show for its efforts. The US has won the gold medal only twice ever, and both of those came on home ice. That's what the Olympics are about, though. Being the best in the world for a two-week window that only opens every four years. It doesn't matter if you are rubbish for the other three years and 50 weeks or never do anything of note ever again. Excelling at the Olympics can grant you instant immortality. Same thing can happen in something such as soccer's World Cup. There is no better example than Salvatore "Tot " Schillachi. Schillachi was something of a journeyman in Italian soccer and was a surprise pick to the Italian squad for the 1990 World Cup. In the opening game against Austria, he came off the bench in the 76th minute and two minutes later scored the only goal of the match. In the second game against the US, he made his appearance far earlier, this time in the 52nd minute, and for the final group match against Czechoslovakia he was in the starting lineup and scored yet again. At this point, it was clearly visible that he was on a roll and in the midst of the biggest purple patch of his life. He scored in the Round of 16 against Uruguay and then the only goal of the match against Ireland in the quarterfinals. Schillachi was now the man of the moment and the person the whole country was turning to. Yet again he found the back of the net versus Argentina in the semifinals, but the South Americans equalized and then won in penalties with Schillachi not asked to take one. His penalty in the third/fourth playoff gave him the Golden Boot award for leading scorer of the tournament. And that was it for him. He would only score one other goal for Italy and would struggle with injuries and confidence for the rest of his career before retiring in 1999. Ask Italians about the tournament and their face will light up as they talk about the Notti Magiche di Tot Schillachi ("magical nights of Tot Schillachi"). Ask them to tell you one single other thing of note that he did and their faces will draw blanks. Therein lies the power of the moment; you can become instantly memorable or instantly forgettable.

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