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Heinrich: Winter vs. Summer – They’re different

Every four years some of the greatest athletes in the world join together and compete for their countries. But unlike their counterparts in the summer, these top class competitors do most of their work with little to no acclaim.

Can you name five Winter Olympians that don’t play in the NHL, and I’ll even accept Shaun White. I don’t remember any stories until this week on the athletes, even on NBC, and they are dedicating over 800 hours of coverage to the Games.

There is the fastest man on Earth, Usain Bolt of Jamaica, the fastest swimmer on Earth, Michael Phelps, and we hold these stars of the Summer Games up high, celebrate their accomplishments, and ridicule any minor mistake. (Read: Michael Phelps hitting a bong.) I guarantee if a star snowboarder had a picture leaked of him smoking some pot shortly after these games there wouldn’t be much of an uproar about it. Except maybe an uproar of laughter because we all assume a lot of the “extreme” athletes do that sort of thing. We should be celebrating their differences and their greatness, not laughing them off.

The majority of the United States salivates for the Summer Olympics. Maybe it is because the events are things most of us have done once or twice in our lives, just at greater speeds. Although I’m pretty sure when I was 12 and broke my neighbor’s window with a baseball I ran the hundred in about 6.7 seconds. The big draws in the summer are Track & Field and Swimming. I know this country is getting morbidly fat, but most of us have run in a circle and jumped in a pool. Now look at the winter events. I can ice skate, but I played hockey in High School. I’ve never skied or snowboarded and the closest thing I’ve done to bobsleigh or skeleton is a plastic dish sled going down a hill in the Sierra Nevada Mountains when I was nine. Just because Americans don’t participate in these events, or anything close to resembling these events on a regular basis, doesn’t mean they should just be ignored.

Try to wrap around your head around this for a second. Usain Bolt runs fast. Apollo Ohno runs fast, in a crowd, with blades on his shoes, on ice. Irving Saladino won the 2008 Gold Medal for Panama in the long jump. He jumped about 27 feet and landed in some sand. Nicholas Alexander is going to launch himself off a hill 90 meters (270 feet) high and land on sticks, ON ICE! Then Michelle Kelly is going to jump on a flat board, with razor sharp blades on the bottom, head first and slide down a winding hill at speeds faster than anything we saw in Beijing. And Lindsey Jacobellis will strap a piece of fiberglass to her feet and try to beat five other fiberglass wearing women down a hill while turning and jumping. Did I mention this is happening on ice? Name one summer athlete doing anything as skilled.

In 2002, Herman Meyer did this. Then two days later he won two gold medals.

These are the most talented athletes the world has ever seen. And for once we’ll be able to catch them with minimal tape delay. Hopefully by the end of February more people will know the names Lindsey Vonn, Chris Mazdzer, Emily Cook, Chris Drury, and many more.

Wednesday I’ll give you a preview of who and what to watch throughout the 20th Winter Olympiad in Vancouver. But until these games start on Friday please ask yourself why these athletes aren’t getting the kind of acclaim the fair weather athletes do. Then tune in and watch some sports do what Disney realized years ago. Everything’s better on ice.