Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympics Skeleton and Me?


I think Luge would make me lose my cookies before they were even out of the oven. I don't mind the idea of flying down the track at 90 miles an hour, but doing it feet-first makes me queasy. It's too easy to imagine crashing into a wall and collapsing like an accordion. The next thing you'd see is a helmet resting atop my shoes as they waddle off the track, imitating a cartoon character who's been walloped with a mallet the size of Nebraska.

Maybe Skeleton would be a better choice -- at least it's more like sledding and you can see where you're going from the top of the run to the bottom. I'd have to beef up my paraspinal and cervical muscles (the ones that support the neck), though, because your head doesn't rest on the frame. You have to hold your neck in an extended position and the G forces can be so strong as to drive the chin into the ice on the way down. Jay Leno would have trouble there, I suspect.

Another good thing is, Skeleton seems to be flexible about participants' ages. The oldest member of the Japanese team at this year's Olympics is Kazuhiro Koshi and he's 45. Make no mistake, he's not doing this on a whim or because he wants to be an inspiration. "I'm in it to win it," he says, "I'll show you all what an old man can do -- you wait!" In the final statistics, his average time was a little over six seconds off the leader, but he competed and finished in the top 20.

Okay, then, what about the danger? Skeleton riders claim it's the safest of the three events that use the bobsled track. For one thing, the sled's steering mechanism is more subtle and refined than the one used in Luge, so there's more control. When you crash in a bobsled, you've got 500 pounds of metal to worry about; on a Skeleton sled, you just keep on sliding until you stop, assuming it's not a wall that stops you.

Naturally, there's the concern that we break more easily as we get older, but this is partly predicated on the notion that physical fitness has to decline with age. That's not a myth, it's a downright misconception. Fitness can be achieved and maintained at any age, depending on one's willingness to work at it. It may take a little longer to get there when we're older, but it doesn't mean we can't get there at all.

All of this is not to say you're going to see me at the next Olympics trials, clad in a skin-tight body suit, and sliding down the track. For one thing, I'd have to do a great deal in order to look good in one of those outfits, though I suppose that's not the point. But the last thing you want to do is look bad in one, so there's that. And there's also residency, but Eric Heiden's experience demonstrates the virtue in taking a calculated risk. I suppose any residency committee would look pretty seriously at a guy my age who'd at least tried out for the Olympics. Mm, well, you never know. If I could find a body suit that went well with my eyes, maybe I'd give it a try.


(Creative Commons image of Kazuhiro Koshi at the World Cup via Zimbio)

(Citation from
"Japan's skeleton master makes no bones of age barrier," by Alistair Himmer via Reuter's)

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