NAGANO, JAPAN — The midwinter day was magnificent, the engulfing snows of past days leaving a legacy of splendid scenery today, as the dazzling Olympic freestyle skiers worked their athletic magic at Iizuna Kogen yesterday with a dizzying array of unfathomable moves on ground and in air.
It was the men's and women's moguls finals. At last, after a disconcerting four-day 0-for-everything in the medals chase, the US got its first gorgeous gold - when Jonny Moseley from Tiburon, Calif., blitzed the knee-jarring and balance-demanding course. His performance included a 360-degree "Mute Grab" spin off the second of the two jumps. Said Moseley of his fully unrestrained effort, "I had to take a risk." Two Finns got the other medals.
Within the hour, Donna Weinbrecht of West Milford, N.J., who won the gold in '92, missed a bronze in the moguls by 0.07 second. "I had a little scribble," she said of her defeat.
But wait a minute, are we really talking moguls finals in the Olympics?
Indeed, shouldn't the Olympics be about what they were about when they started in 1924 in Chamonix, France, when the competitions were basically in those real events, like ski jumping, cross country, hockey?
Well, no, they shouldn't be. Gratefully, they're not.
A number of new days have dawned in the 74-year history of the Olympics and we are enormously the better for it. Indeed, because of innovative and forward thinking by the International Olympic Committee - a group typically and often correctly thought of as hide-bound and bureaucracy-entrenched - Nagano is showcasing athletes in new sports who have new ways of moving their feet.
Never, until now, had three new events erupted on the winter Olympics scene at the same moment. The arrival of snowboarding, women's hockey, and curling does not produce a cacophony but a symphony. Add to this the buzz surrounding the participation of National Hockey League players for the first time on the US Olympic team and you have a new and improved crazy quilt of excitement.
The moguls competition, admitted to the games (along with short track speed skating) in 1992 and until now, the newest family member, put the wisdom of the IOC's forward thinking in bold relief. Yes, Nagano would be a poorer place without the freestylers. These people have created a new way to come down a mountain and it makes our hearts pound just watching. We're all fortunate that everyone didn't conclude that the only ways to descend a steep hill in competition are downhill racing, slalom, or jumping. The moguls competitors are quick, athletic, focused, dedicated. Sounds like qualities that belong in the Olympics.
It gets better because come Feb.18, the freestylers will be performing in the aerials. That's when we get to see the competitors sometimes 50 feet above the ground performing acrobatics that don't make our hearts pound but stop. We are terrified by the looking. We can only imagine what it must feel like to be doing.
Each time a new sport has been invited to the Olympics - the biathlon in 1960, the luge in 1964, and most notably, the event babies who were delivered in 1992 and 1998 - what has resulted is a richer Olympics.
Each sport reaches out to a different constituency and often to a different part of the world. To wit: Curling, of huge import in Canada and several European countries and a game in which stars can be 40 years old, sits in glowing juxtaposition to snowboarding and freestyle skiing in which it generally is youngsters who know they are immortal who excel, which in turn sits in glowing juxtaposition to women's ice hockey, a fledgling sport that, among other things, hopes to get little girls thinking about athletic activities they heretofore may not have considered.
Trying new things like this is chancy. That's why often, in our businesses and in our lives, we do things today because it's the way we did them yesterday.
Nothing is more fragile than a new idea nor more easily deflated. Often, the naysayers are the ones who have no ideas themselves and who will never understand that less risk means less reward.
So while there are many disputes over what sports should get to jump up on the Olympic stage, the benefit all of us reap is that some have been. Even better, more will be - we hope.
* Douglas S. Looney's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org