Saturday, February 17, 2018

Olympic Fever

I've long been a sucker for the Olympics. I'll spend hours watching sports I won't watch for two seconds over the next four years. And come the next Olympiad, I won't even remember how curling is scored or how many periods there are in ice hockey.

To follow up my syndicated cartoon this week about Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon and his snub of Vice President Pence, Slalomback Saturday presents a selection of earlier cartoons I drew about the Winter Games.
I had wanted to lead off with this cover drawing I did for the UW-Milwaukee Post, thinking it had been for a winter Olympics issue. But when I finally dug it up the other day, I discovered that this December, 1990 issue of the Post had nothing to do with the Olympics at all. Perhaps I used a photo from the 1984 or 1988 games as the basis for this drawing.

At any rate, I didn't have the use of computer graphics in making and shading this picture; instead, I used an exacto knife to cut the shapes of each individual shade of black or blue from screentone sheets, very thin adhesive plastic, clear but for the halftone dot pattern printed on it, which I then very carefully applied onto the drawing (or, in the case of the blue shades, to a separate sheet).

I left plenty of room for teaser headlines, but the editors for whatever reason opted not to include any.

This year's Olympics mark the second time that the Russian national anthem would not be played for Russian gold medalists. The Soviet Union had broken up only a few months before the Albertville games of 1992 (the last time the winter and summer games were held in the same year). Most of the newly separated nations did not yet have their own Olympic committees; the U.S.S.R.'s State Committee on Sports had been disbanded and its funds for athletes disappeared along with it.

Officially, athletes from Russia and eleven other former socialist republics that year competed instead as the "Unified Team" ("Équipe Unifiée" in the host French) under the Olympic flag; popularly, they were known as the "Commonwealth of Independent States" team. They did win 45 gold medals that year. As is the case again in 2018, when those winners stood on the podium, the Olympic anthem was played.

When the Winter Olympics returned a short two years later, there was a more personal drama dominating American coverage. You may have heard about it.

On January 6, 1994, U.S. Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a hit man hired by the ex-husband of another U.S. Olympic skater, Tonya Harding. The attacker attempted to break Kerrigan's right leg with a metal baton; Kerrigan was merely bruised, but was forced to withdraw from the U.S. National Figure Skating Championship underway at the time.

Media attention to today's Olympians is nothing compared to the feeding frenzy around Kerrigan and Harding, packing their practice sessions and camping out in front of their homes as the attack plot quickly unraveled. In the end, Kerrigan won a silver medal at Lillehammer, Norway; Harding, after crying to the judges about a problem with her skate laces, was allowed a reskate of her aborted routine but came in eighth anyway. And while no complicity on Harding's part in the attack plot has ever been proven, she was driven from the sport and stripped of all her titles and awards.

So she tried boxing instead.

The organizing committee (SLOC) for the 2002 games in Salt Lake City was overwhelmingly white, straight and male (and, yes, Mormon) until one of the few trustees not in that demographic, Lillian Taylor, convinced the SLOC that it needed to diversify. As part of its effort to do so, the SLOC created a minority-outreach council responsible for recruiting volunteers from various minority groups, eventually including the LGBT community.

A gay man and a lesbian woman were named to the SLOC's diversity committee, and LGBT volunteers were involved in everything from working as translators to parking cars to working security details to managing volunteers for an entire venue. The Gay and Lesbian Times enthused that the Salt Lake City games “will go down as one of the most-gay inclusive Olympics to date.”

That same year, I drew this cartoon to accompany a Milwaukee Business Journal editorial characterizing Milwaukee businesses as being slow, steady, and ethical, as opposed to the fast and loose reckless opportunism of national firms. The inflated profit claims of Enron papered over by its accountants at Arthur Andersen had helped usher in the dotcom bust of the previous year.

Meanwhile, Apolo Ohno had grabbed the world's attention in short track speed skating. In the finals of the 1,000 meter race, he and three of his rivals collided in a massive jumble, allowing the sole skater remaining upright, Australian Steven Bradbury, skate past them to cross the finish line first. It seemed a natural image for that week's editorial.

I hasten to point out that all that form-fitting lycra is not the reason I get so wrapped up in watching the Olympic games.

Well, not the only reason.

And back to Russia we quickly go.

The pageantry of the opening and closing ceremonies is not to be missed, as each host endeavors to outdo the ones which had gone before. So, too, do the fashion designers who create the outfits the athletes wear as they parade, cell phones held aloft, into the stadium.

Some of the outfits are more successful than others, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics included some curiously complex pastels that looked as if the athletes had engaged in a frosted doughnut fight outside the stadium. That is not to say that all the outfits were as hideous as Cartoon Costas makes them out to be.

But it must be frustrating to put all one's hard work into designing and manufacturing fresh, new, and exciting jackets, caps and sports gear for the fastest, highest, strongest men and women as they strut onto an international stage... or to be the organizing committee responsible for paying those top-notch designers tens of thousands of dollars, yuan, euro, or rubles for their brilliant, imaginative ideas ...

...and the only thing anyone remembers is the guy from Tonga wearing nothing but baby oil.

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