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Saturday, June 22, 2024
Laterally SpeakingSlippin' and Slidin'

Slippin’ and Slidin’

We all have particular hates in life. My sister hates a messy kitchen, my dog hates getting up in the morning and we all hate going to the dentist. My particular hate concerns skiing – largely because I’m no good at it. I once went up an Italian mountain in my twenties to impress a passing girlfriend. I’d never skied before but it looked so easy-peasy! Obviously taking ski lessons would be a waste of time: you go up a hill and you come back down a hill but with sticks on your feet. No problem.

It’s a boy/man thing… Many of us hate being told how to do anything – particularly when it seems so obvious what to do. That’s why many men never look at the instruction manual: we simply connect up the telly or the computer, turn it on and then work it out. This is the direct approach – suck it and see. Surely that’d be the same with skiing?

Well, no actually. As soon as I hopped off the ski-lift into a swirling blizzard at 6 thousand feet, I discovered that wherever I wanted my legs to go, my skis had other ideas. After several attempts to stand, I ended up spread-eagled like a barbequed giraffe. Having eventually assembled my arms and legs into a fixed crouch position, I managed to squat and slide down the hill straight into a tree because I had no idea how to stop. I realized that perhaps I should have at least skimmed through a ‘quick ski start guide’ before departing up the mountain. I slid down another slope entirely on my bum which wore an embarrassing hole in my natty new blue ski suit. In desperation I ended up taking off the wretched skis and walking down the hill carrying them over my shoulder. It took four hours to walk back down – an embarrassment made even worse by the joyful shouts of glee from small children whooshing past me or through my legs as they showed off their downhill ski skills. That’s why I hate anything to do with skiing. And Italian girlfriends.

This is also why I’ve never been able to get involved with any of the Winter Olympics on TV. I watched a bit of freestyle skiing and skating but I fell asleep while trying to work out the overly complicated points scoring. I almost got into curling but it just looks too silly. And I really wanted to appreciate the ice hockey but the puck is so small and it zooms about so fast, that it’s difficult to see who’s got it and where it is… and then out of nowhere they’re all suddenly cheering and it’s in the goal and I have no idea how it got there. Yes, I know I’m not alone when I say that ice hockey just doesn’t work on TV. You need a bigger screen. Or I need a slow-motion pair of glasses or a go-faster brain.

I’ve also tried to get into downhill skiing and ski jumping but they mostly leave me cold. Literally. If you look at the spectators lining the track, you realise that they’re all madly cheering and ringing cow bells because of the cold. They’re just trying to keep themselves warm as they stand about trying to catch an eye blink flash of a skier zooming past at 90 miles per hour.

And before you start to send me pro-ski hate emails or tweets, let me be the first to praise team GB and all our highly skilled competitors. I applaud their triumphs and I share their tears and – sometimes alas – their crashing disappointments. But the wide-eyed wonder that I feel for them is similar to me admiring a seal for balancing a ball on the end of its nose. I can feel deferential to any being if I see it doing something that I would never be able to emulate in a month of Ski Sundays.

And, in addition to the undoubted skill involved, I can bow down in awe to the sheer nerve of slipping down a hill on your back at 100 mph. You surely have to have at least one screw loose to do the Luge. You might just as well slide down a hill on a tea tray with your head two inches above the ice, which is what the Skeleton is all about. Bravery, yes; but a healthy spoonful of lunacy too.

Winter sports all involve different ways of sliding, slipping, skidding or slithering over the ground. I don’t care what anyone says, but this is not a normal method of transport. It seems to me that all the events in winter sports are unnatural because they all require extra bits of something tied on to your body. None of them are possible unless you’ve got skates or skis or snowboards or metal runners under your back. Surely summer Olympics are more environmentally natural. You don’t need anything extra to run a hundred metres, do the high jump or long jump or dive into a swimming pool. But sliding down a mountainside four times faster than a speeding jack rabbit is as mad as a month of March hares. Which I suppose is one of the reasons why they do it… Either that or they’re all trying to get away from their Italian girlfriends and boyfriends.

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