Ice Follies 

At any rate, we were watching a pair of Russian ice dancers cavort around the rink in Turin, thinking only of how comely they looked, how graceful, how enterprisingly athletic. And then it struck us: What's happened to the politics of the Olympics? Time was when Russians on the rink or on the court or on the oval track would arouse political antagonisms of the direst kind.

The same for East Germany, which -- unification of the Germanies having long since been accomplished -- doesn't even exist any longer. The East Germans could always be relied on for a good doping scandal, in addition to the sinister political shadow they cast. The best the Olympics had to offer on the drug front this year was the surprise bust that went on in the Austrian compound. A collateral satisfaction that came with that: One of the Austrian skiers who wasn't disqualified was interviewed and responded with an accent that was astonishingly like that of his erstwhile countryman, Arnold Scharzenegger.

The point, we suppose, is that we must take our satisfactions where we can. No longer can we convert an unfolding athletic competition into a do-or-die Cold War drama. The only thing cold about these games is the weather. And the closest thing to a war was the glacial stare which an Italian ice skater trained on her male partner after he unceremoniously dropped her on the ice at the conclusion of what should have been a medal-winning performance.

At any rate, we just have to face it: The Cold War is on ice ... or, rather, it's off the ice. Or ... well, you get our meaning. Maybe things will be different by the time the summer Olympics of 2008 roll around. But we doubt it. Radical Islamists, the substitute bad guys of the modern era, don't field Olympic teams -- though some of them, practiced cave dwellers, might do well if spelunking were introduced as a sport.

In the end, all we're left with is the time-honored thrill of victory and agony of defeat. The problem is, in the age of reality TV, there are more compelling versions of it to be found. That's why American Idol has outdone the winter Olympics in the ratings. It's the grand slalom of junk sports. And if it's entertaining villains you want, you could hardly do better than Simon Cowell. Next to him, the East Germans were pikers.

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