Bode Miller, Lindsey Jacobellis, and an Olympic-sized lesson on what to do when opportunity knocks

Complete this sentence: “When opportunity knocks, ___________________________.”

I was pretty hard on Bode Miller after his no-show in Torino four years ago, about as hard as I’ve ever been on anyone who wasn’t in a position of political authority. Looking back, I don’t regret a word of it. He established himself as the archetype of American sports marketing, and his all-hype no-results performance was about as embarrassing as anything in the history of the US Olympic team.

And while I didn’t write about her, my friends certainly heard some choice words on the subject Lindsey Jacobellis, who decided that showing her ass was more important than winning.

Lately, as I watched both athletes seeking Redemption® (Copyright 2010 by NBC; all rights reserved) in the Vancouver games , I’ve thought back on their various self-indulgences. Both are four years older. Miller has a kid now and seems a little more responsibly minded. Jacobellis seems duly chastised (and why not – for the last four years she’s been the sports world’s version of Miss Teen South Carolina, such as). The truth is that I was rooting for her to win this year. I’ve also been pulling for Miller, and was really happy when he finally won a gold yesterday in the Super-Combined. Unfortunately for Jacobellis, she crashed again (this time while actually racing).

Still, I’ve been thinking less about them per se than I have my own reactions to them. After all, the worst you could possibly believe about Miller and Jacobellis is that they’re just two clueless jocks. They haven’t killed anyone. They haven’t ruined the economy. Heck, as far as I know they haven’t even used steroids (and given the rigors of Olympic drug-testing, they’re probably cleaner than an obsessive-compulsive’s lunchbox). In an average day I come across stories about people a zillion times worse than they are, what? … a hundred times? A thousand?

And yet, all you have to do is read one of my Bode posts, linked above, to understand that their behavior damned near twisted my nipples off. I think I’ve figured out why.

It has to do with opportunity. The fact is that these two kids have been blessed with fantastic opportunities. They were born athletic and they were fortunate enough to find themselves in situations where they could develop their skills. There’s no question that they worked hard – I don’t care how gifted an athlete you are, you don’t get to the Olympics without working. Finally, as a result of this rare cocktail – native ability, a context that allowed them to practice, and lots of hard work (pretty much the archetypal trifecta that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in Outliers, in fact) – they found themselves on the brink of glory. And what did they do?

When opportunity knocks, piss on it.

Bode and Lindsey together were presented with more opportunity in a few short days than all the residents of some American towns and cities put together see in a lifetime. And they didn’t respect the opportunity. They didn’t recognize the gift before them. So instead of jumping it like a starved alley cat on the last fishstick on Earth, they blew it off. They partied. They hotdogged. And when they were called on their stupidity, each treated America to an epic exhibition of whatever.

I’m like a lot of people, I guess. What wouldn’t I have given to have that kind of talent and to get that kind of crack at Olympic success? What wouldn’t a lot of us give for a gold medal?

Better yet – what wouldn’t a lot of us give for a fraction of the money that comes with athletic success? How many people could feed their families for a week on what Bode flushed in Torino’s nightclubs the night before an event? What could a lot of poor school districts do with the endorsement dollars a gold would have brought Jacobellis (or that she got anyway, because in that culture, some assign street cred to that kind of “rebellious” fucking around)?

In short, there aren’t enough incredible, life-changing opportunities to go around, and to a guy who’s worked pretty hard for the chances he’s gotten, it’s simply unfathomable that you’d treat one of those golden tickets with anything short of pure reverence. They weren’t actually cheating me, but my feelings about opportunity are such that I couldn’t help taking it personally. And yes, I know that says more about me than it does them.

I can’t say what Bode and Lindsey really think deep inside, although I imagine Bode is probably pretty happy about that redemption meme that NBC has worked so hard to establish. Maybe some of the media pose we’ve seen in the past was a defense mechanism. Maybe they were beyond humiliated and they’re just trying to cope. I know I’d be, but who can say what others are thinking? And like I say above, I wish them both well. There’s a narrow window for an Olympic athlete, and Miller’s was probably damned near shut when he jumped out of the gate yesterday. Jacobellis will be 28 in four years, and it’s hard to say whether she’ll still be at the top of her game at that point. A lot can happen in four years.

More than anything, the message here is for the rest of us, and especially for those who are still young enough that most of their lives (and opportunities) lie ahead of them.

When opportunity knocks, open the door. And treat it with the respect it deserves, because this may the only time it comes to see you. Ever.

18 replies »

  1. Well lets just say that WNY is pretty proud of their 3 home grown guys (even if one did beat up a cabbie), their team and eventual league MVP goalie, and their former captain Chris Drury today. Living so close and working with Canadians has made today a pleasure.

  2. Yes, well, regarding my good friends from Canadia, let’s just say that I’m being gracious until such time as the chickens have actually hatched. So far we have earned zero medals.

  3. Neither am I, but the US beating them at their sport is a nice way to start a Monday morning. Couple that with the local connection the team has to WNY and it’s extra special. No doubt Canada can be dangerous, but their roster is filled with all stars. I’m not sure if they have enough role players. The US has a 4th line, and they play like a 4th line. I was one of the few people who applauded the coaches for their selections. Most analysts got mad because they didn’t pick the usual household names. Usually an ensemble cast or a musical super group never live up to the hype, I’m wondering if this is what team Canada is, or if the US just angered the big red maple leaf.

  4. As amazing as Ryan Miller was, Martin Brodeur was downright ordinary at the other end. Kinda makes you realize why Uncle Lou traded for Kovalchuk a couple weeks back. Whether Brodeur sticks around for another year or not, this looks like New Jersey’s last dance.

    Maybe Babcock planned it this way — give Brodeur every chance to fail and then put in local boy Luongo when the games start to matter.

  5. It hurts so bad (Canadian writing here), but congrats to the US on a great win. That was a Vezina-level performance by Ryan Miller. The Canadian team made too many mistakes and giveaways, Brodeur was not on, unforgivably sloppy defence on Kesler’s empty-netter. Sheesh, why can’t the Burke-Wilson combo produce those results in Toronto?

    • I wouldn’t want to be the next team to have to play Canada, though. If that’s how they play when their backs AREN’T against the wall, somebody’s going to get shellacked now that it’s win-or-go-home.

  6. Fine piece of writing, Sam. I’m passing the word. I know a lot of current students and recent grads who need to read this.

  7. Well Miller is used to it, the Sabres give up a lot of shots from the perimeter, and the quality shots Miller does have to make he usually does. I think the best thing for Canada is another game like the one they have coming up. It will give them more time to gel. I also assure you that this game mattered, maybe it mattered more to the fans, but it mattered. Also Miller had some great post game comments, that dude is such a class act.

  8. Yeah, I was thinking that too. Miller wasn’t exactly out of his comfort zone in that environment. He’s used to getting peppered with shots like that. Maybe that’s Yzerman’s biggest mistake there. If he really liked what Brodeur did for the Devils, he should have also tried to put defensemen in front of him that play his defensive style. Goalies are very particular about how their D play in front of them.

    Oh well, poor Germany gets Luongo and Canada next.

    @ Sue – Toronto will be better next year. Two solid goalies, 3 top defensemen, a solid top centerman. You can always draft scoring … as long as your team isn’t giving away all of its draft picks.

  9. I have been wondering who Jacobellis knows that gets her another shot at the Olympics-and when she blew off the media after her “make sure the whole world gets the finger again” truck driver grab after disqualifying the answer was given-who DID she have time for -Jenna Bush-so we find out she is in tight with the Bushs’ and the puzzle finally fits-that explains her absolutely horrible judgment in force feeding everyone to recall her dumas of all winter Olympics episodes from Torino-just rub it in our faces Jacobelly that you got your spot from family privilege and that explains your whole attitude-she is not hungry or grateful to be at the Olympics this entitled, spoiled female dog thinks it is OWED to her and it shows in her mouth and her body language-she should have been kissing you know what these whole games just for the second chance-but no-we got another foul tasting dose of Jacobelly-up and I for one am pleading with the Olympic committee to wise up and quit playing favorites-cause the secret is out-I know of at least 2 great American snowboarders from Tahoe-sisters-that would have 10 times the heart and they have the talent-but they are kids from a non-affluent single mother with 5 kids to cover and no “political friends” . Jacobellis’ diss to Vonn (obvious jealousy because this Lindsey was bringing home the medals without any shame on them) about how she thought too much of herself and her image as a role model to little girls to do the SI bikini photo shoot was just about the funniest line of crud I have heard this year-yeah being a clueless brat with a nasty attitude makes you a role model-I got news for you honey after Torino you were NOBODIES role model-but rather THE poster child for what not to do when you have been handed EVERY privilege and decided to piss on it. As far as Hockey goes-our boys ROCK and Ryan Miller-we could all see your heart of a champion beating right through your chest-now that is giving it all-Thanks Ryan-and the boys YOU made us the proudest Nation on Earth