Dear Olympians: I could do that

Jen McLish | Staff Writer

The Olympics are over. The snow is melting, athletes are going home and (presumably) someone is converting the luge course into the world’s best water slide. I, however, am not quite ready to leave Pyeongchang behind. For the past few weeks, I was entranced. I procrastinated homework with speed skating. The rhythm of cross-country skiing lulled me to sleep at night. I watched skeleton for hours, first out of curiosity, then for the same reasons you might watch a horror movie. But the sport that captivated me most, as always, was snowboarding.

During the first week of the games, Redmond Gerard awed the world when he won gold in the snowboard slopestyle event at just 17 years old. Among other things, his winning run included a backside triple cork 1440. If you aren’t familiar with snowboarding’s esoteric naming conventions, that’s four complete clockwise spins, completed while inverting his body so that his head and shoulders fell below his board three separate times. The athleticism necessary just to complete the trick—not to mention survive the landing—is incalculable. But here’s the thing: I’m pretty sure I could do it.

Obviously, I could not do it. Despite picking up snowboarding at 11 years old, I was 16 before I worked up the courage to try a 50-50 on a box—fancy language for riding straight over a flat surface. If my board leaves the snow for longer than half a second, I consider it an unhappy accident. I don’t like to ride too fast, turning on steep slopes gives me anxiety and my worst snowboarding accident was a humiliating wipeout while trying to get off a chair lift. If I can tear a muscle before I even start down the mountain, I would probably break every bone in my body trying to imitate an Olympian. But even though my brain knows the only move I’m capable of is an air-to-funeral, my heart is absolutely certain that if someone took me to the X-Games and pointed at the half pipe, I could give Chloe Kim a run for her money.

There’s an easy answer to the question of why I have delusions of snowboarding grandeur: I’m an idiot. As @michellebhasin on Twitter put it, “Before every Olympic event they should send out one average person to perform the upcoming event. To fall on their face. Completely fail. Just so those of us at home who watch the Olympics and think ‘I could do that’ realize we can’t. We really can’t.”

The idea of having a designated Average Joe compete is an old joke that pops up every Olympics like clockwork.
Since every Olympian (with a few exceptions) has already proved themselves to be near superhuman just by making it to the games, the baseline for an “average” performance is astronomically high. The middle of the Olympic pack becomes the new normal, and in this, we couch potatoes see ourselves. If the point of the games is to showcase the unbelievable, unattainable talent of the athletes, then assigning some poor soul the task of humiliating themselves to remind us all of our place (hint: it’s not in Pyeongchang) is a great idea. The stack of waivers these sacrifices would have to sign would be high enough to serve as the new ski jump ramp, but who wouldn’t risk a little death for the Olympic spotlight?

Obviously, Olympic athletes are stunningly talented, and their talent is fun to marvel at. But the reason I love the Olympics is that they make me feel like I, too, can slide very fast down a mountain, hurl myself in the air and spin around an improbable number of times before the landing pulverizes my knees. Kim’s back-to-back 1080s on the halfpipe were beautiful to watch for their own sake, but they also filled me with so much frantic energy that I had to immediately go to the gym or explode from the pressure of excess adrenaline on top of a critical density of useless snowboarding terminology. A week later, I’m still fantasizing. My brain even compromised with my heart and agreed to try a jump, although whether my body will cooperate remains to be seen.

Yes, everything Olympic athletes do is insane—and shouldn’t be possible—but the point of the games is that it is possible. Those are real humans landing quadruple lutzes and triple backflips and something called a McTwist. Unless Student Life’s readership has finally expanded to the galactic market, or there was a mix-up and you found this paper at the front of your cave instead of Cryptid Weekly, you’re human, too. Keep thinking “I could do that,” even though it doesn’t make any sense. Go ice skating. Try a backflip. Enter a vegan hot dog eating contest. Do something dumb and ridiculous just to remind yourself that we’re all capable of more than we think (and because you’re human and alive and a little bit of an idiot). Also, remember that I and Student Life cannot be held liable for any injury you may receive in the process of following my terrible advice. Please contact my lawyer with any complaints because I’ll be on the mountain, practicing my boardslides. Maybe you’ll even see me at the next Olympics. Probably not. But maybe.