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WARREN MILLER: Olympic Gold

August 17, 2012

It is already the middle of August and in a couple of months I will have to start doing a pushup or two every day to get back in shape for a winter of (fill in the blank). 

In my case, it will be another winter of living in our house on the side of a fantastic ski hill with a chairlift only about 200 feet away. Since 1937, I have either been skiing, teaching skiing, filming skiing, or watching it. 
 
While I have been waiting for the exercise season to get started in October, I have been watching the summer Olympics. I particularly enjoy listening to the commentary about high amateur morals and the status of various athletes and national teams.
 
There was a time when America got up in arms when they found out that some nation—Russia for example—was financing the athletes that represented them because of the status of an Olympic medal for its country. 
 
It is no surprise that Michael Phelps’ first 16 medals were worth $10 million a year in endorsements and other stuff for the next four years. I wonder how much money the next four years will be worth now that he has 20 some medals for swimming back and forth in a lap pool.
 
It would be almost impossible to calculate the total annual income of America’s basketball team. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James make enough money between them, estimated at $105,000,000, which is a lot more than the total net worth in the local bank here on our island.
 
Say what you want, I still believe in the journey rather than the destination but in the Olympic quest, both the journey and the destination have to be a real enjoyable trip.
 
Way back when I was training to be a ski racer in 1948 (and taking advantage of all of America’s good ski racers being in Europe), I was faced with a dilemma. Charlie Proctor, who used to coach the Dartmouth ski team and was on the Olympic team himself in the early 1930s, told me, “If you want to continue to shovel snow here at Yosemite on the ski patrol, I can pay you 25 cents an hour. However if you accept that money you will become a professional skier and thus ineligible to be an amateur ski racer.”
 
Ward Baker and I put down our shovels and began to train as amateur racers and had a lot of fun doing it. Along the way, we both managed to win a little hardware and collect a lot of laughs. During that time, I could not even get the Sun Valley Ski Club to buy the gas for our trips to ski races—even though the gasoline was already over 20 cents a gallon in that part of Idaho and Utah. 
 
We reached Bogus Basin, near Boise, Snow Basin near Ogden, Utah, the Sugar Bowl, on Donner Summit, Calif., Mount Rose near Reno, Nevada, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Sun Valley, Idaho, and parked in all of the parking lots with our trailer. We brought some hardware home from every race we entered. No money was ever involved but the memories we gathered are priceless.
 
In the early days when the Olympics were being revived in the 20th Century, Jim Thorpe was forced to give up a gold medal because he once was paid $25 for competing in an athletic event. You can Google Jim Thorpe. The reading is very interesting.
 
If there is a pot of gold to go along with a gold medal, some people say why not? But my belief however, is that it is not OK to be paid for an Olympic event if you examine the Olympic Oath, which ends in, “For the glory of sport and the honor of our teams.”
 
I can’t help wondering why those ditzy people who interview the athletes don’t ask them important questions such as how many miles do you think you have run, swam, or whatever you do to earn your medal. How much money did the person spend on you that financed all of your coaches and travel? 
 
With one-minute TV spots selling for $300,000 during the opening ceremony, the Olympics are a real money-making machine. During these times of 8.3 percent unemployment in America, anything that provides additional jobs I am all for. The men and women who come home with Olympic gold will spawn many different jobs to take care of the endorsements and personal appearances that all of the winners and runner ups will be expected to do.
 
The only bad thing about the summer Olympics is that they only occur once every four years and what if you are an athlete and you reach your prime right in the middle of that four-year period?
I hope there is a graduate student somewhere who will add up the dollars that all of these athletes earn in the next calendar year … just for fun.
 
Finally I wonder how two male volleyball players from Latvia, a country of two and a half million people, were able to beat two Americans from Southern California, where beach volleyball was invented? 
 
Food for thought.
 
Warren Miller is an American ski and snowboarding filmmaker. He is the founder of Warren Miller Entertainment and produced, directed and narrated his films until 1988. His annual films on skiing and other outdoor sports are renowned for their stunning photography, witty narrative humor, and the impressive talents of athletes. He has received wide acclaim for his promotion of the sport of modern skiing through his films spanning over 50 years and is an iconic figure in ski movie filmmaking. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of the Mammoth Times.
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