On a weekend in which love of celebrated, it will be hard to separate several Arkansans from the love of sports on television.
Rarely do you have such an eclectic mix of offerings on TV to tempt you and your significant other to fix something at home today.
There’s golf at Pebble Beach, which is always fun and refreshing to watch — or sleep as you hear the waves from the Pacific. Things are enhanced today as former Conway golfer Bryce Molder was tied for the lead going into the final two rounds. In 1999, Molder reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach in an amazing and memorable run.
There’s also the Daytona 500, which not only has Danica Patrick in the field but Mark Martin on the pole.
There’s the NBA All-Star game, a made-for-TV spectacle but entertaining for many because of the individual talent.
Then, there’s the second full day of the Winter Olympics with lots of skiing and skating set.
But there was a pall cast over the Games before they even officially started. Nodar Kumaritasvili, a 21-year-old luger from the Republic of Georgia, was killed during a practice run on what has been described as the fastest and most dangerous luge run in the world.
Now the most deadly.
If you could bear to watch the video, it was a horrific crash that sent the inexperienced luger over the retaining wall into an unpadded utility pole.
Why was the pole not padded?
No one likely thought someone would fly over the retaining wall, which has a wicked angle. Maybe no one realized the effect of what might happen if an athlete suddenly lost control riding an ice-propelled missile at speeds of 90-plus miles per hour. They could have seen it coming. The best of the lugers were having control problems during practice runs.
One athlete, after a practice run, complained that the lugers might become "crash test dummies."
Mark Grimmette, a veteran United States luger, noted the run, which was designed for speed and danger, was creeping very close to rational safety boundaries.
That’s the dilemma.
It raises the question about how extreme can one make extreme sports to have the thrill but before they become too cruel of spectacle that almost rivals gladiators being thrown into a Roman arena?
Several sports in which participants live on the edge, such as half-pipe, freestyle skiing and snowboarding, have been added to the Winter Olympic menu to enhance the interest, especially among a younger generation. The danger and fear factor have been ratcheted for the traditional sports: downhill runs and slalom runs are made steeper and slicker to increase the speed and risk; bobsled and luge runs are set at wicked angles and turns and designed to test the boundaries of speed and coordination.
The appeal of sports to many is the danger element — the high-flying, gravity-testing, tightrope-without-a-net stuff — as long as no one gets badly hurt.
One analyst said of the luge run that he was not as concerned with the experienced athletes (usually those rated 1-12). But 13 on down represented a real danger because most of those didn’t have the experience and many were appearing in their first Olympics.
I’ve watched Olympic luge. In the best conditions, it’s scary because things can go very wrong with the incorrect and sudden twitch of a muscle.
And if you think luge is scary, check out skeleton.
What’s the difference between luge and skeleton? In luge, the sledder goes down feet first. In skeleton, it’s head first.
The tragedy Friday reminded me of a 1966 column that the late, great sports columnist Jim Murray penned when Indianapolis race car officials were testing the boundaries of speed and human execution that had resulted in some crashes and deaths.
A paragraph in that column read in describing what Murray mused an Indy official might be saying to future drivers before a practice run, "Now, ordinarily, for tests like these, automotive research uses articulated dummies to study crash effects, but today instead of articulated dummies, we’re using race drivers. Gentlemen, start your coffins!"
We ought to think today about that satirical slant of more than a half-century ago as we think about walk the fine line between extreme thrills and extreme danger.
Athletes shouldn’t walk into an Olympic Stadium with somber faces, tears in their eyes and black armbands over the sudden death of a 21-year-old athlete who was simply practicing to fulfill a dream.
A night of celebration shouldn’t begin like a funeral.
A minute of silence shouldn’t precede an enthusiastic greeting to athletes who have earned their time in the spotlight.
A life should not be extinguished before a torch is lit.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)