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Winter Olympians play danger game

By Elliott Almond
Thursday, February 11th, 2010 at 10:46 pm in Uncategorized.

Bobsled medal favorite Steven Holcomb was asked about the safety of his sport the day I published a story about the inherent risks of many Winter Olympic events.

Holcomb’s response seemed to summarize the athlete’s psyche:

“There is no safety line,” he said. ” There is only a winning line and a losing line.”

I had asked Temple professor Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association, about the psyche of Winter Olympians. He researches people who push the limit, such as mountain climbers and Indy car drivers.

“The Winter Olympics capture something about the American spirit that you sometimes don’t get in some other more traditional sports,” Farley told me.  “It is a sports version of the Silicon Valley culture.

“We tend to walk and run in shoes and not on blades. Winter Olympics have a different quality of sport. It seems to have more of qualities that we often see in risky events. There is variety, novelty, uncertainty, unpredictability and change going on.”

Farley, interestingly, had Eric Heiden in a class the year (1980) Heiden won five speedskating medals at the Lake Placid Games.

“Something about the Winter Olympics is almost more elemental; it is more connected to the forces of nature. You’re on mountains, you’re in snow, which is not our normal, every day venue – at least most people in this world. It’s almost more primitive.”

And for those fans attracted to the high-risk sports?

“There is a fascination with the dark side, the death side,” Farley said. “It comes through in all those sports.”

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