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Olympic shoot-out

Bleacher Views

Well now, how did the recent Olympics go for you? Did you dive into the U.S. Water polo team? Did you shake a stick for the men’s field hockey final? Get bored with the skate boarding?

Well, you were not alone if you found the whole thing less than entrancing. Viewership (should that even be a word?) was evidently way down; so the pundits were all in a tizzy to explain why. The pandemic, time difference, the year-long delay were all cited, but as usual they missed the most obvious explanation: There were no guys in black hats.

You remember those guys; they were called Soviets, and they wore CCCP on their uniforms, which somehow translated to Union of Socialist Soviet Republics; and they wore real, not metaphoric, black hats.

They were called “Ambassador Hats” and looked like a deep hulled, upside down canoes made of wool or fur. Khrushchev, Brezhnev, even Gorbachev wore them. Now I have not seen Putin in one; perhaps they don’t make them in a size small enough. But even if he did, those days of “we will bury you” are long gone, and thankfully so.

When I was a youngster Westerns were king, and you never saw a good guy in a black hat. Why Marshall Dillon would eat his dusty rag rather than wear a Midnight Stetson; so we knew who were the good guys in our set-tos with the Soviets.

That’s why every track meet, every basketball game, and especially every hockey game was a referendum on the relative power of East and West and was played out like a gunfight in the old West with only one side left standing. That meant there were some Olympic confrontations that would have made the gods proud and Western heroes nodding their heads.

For example, we had a high jumper named John Thomas, a long lanky fella who looked like he should be jumping buildings in a single bound. The Soviets countered with a short fella who wouldn’t stand out in a crowd — until he started jumping that is. His name was Valery Brumel, and he kept beating our superman, much to consternation of all right-thinking Westerners. It was like Marshall Dillon losing a gun fight; it just shouldn’t happen. But it did, and we ended up admiring the fellow in spite of ourselves. Maybe there was a lesson there.

So, since a simulation of World War III isn’t in the offing, perhaps we should return the games to their rightful owners, the athletes themselves. They seem to think the reward, a medal and a small bouquet of flowers, is worth all the fuss, feathers, and pain; so go to it.


Millerton resident Theodore Kneeland is a retired teacher and coach — and athlete.

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