VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The joyride express for the U.S. had been cruising without one international incident during the Winter Games. Without Bode Miller bar-hopping, or bad blood between Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick. Without an ounce of ego from the darling duo of Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White or the anti-American protests that had cast the U.S. athletes as villains in the Bush years. Not one ransacked dorm room in the Olympic village. Not one U.S. athlete ripping a rival.
And then along comes an ugly American to disrupt the feel-good vibe: Tiger Woods. Remember, he is a future Olympian, a major force in pushing golf onto the Summer Games menu for 2016. He doesn't get a pass on IOC scrutiny. In the view of IOC president Jacques Rogge, Woods is a "disappointment" to the Olympic movement for having as many mistresses as clubs in his bag. "We call for our athletes to be a role model for youngsters and that is evidently not the case with Woods," Rogge told Spain's El Pais in December as the revelations of Tiger's insatiable desire for upwardly mobile women -- at least as pole dancers -- were spreading worldwide.
So now, after three months of silence, just at the TMZ lens had turned toward Terrell Owens and his hair-raising appearance on the Fashion Week catwalk, Tiger is out to command everyone's attention. Mark it down. Put it in your planner. He wants to explain himself by holding a press conference tomorrow with selected reporters who will be asked to sit there in silence. No questions, please. The control freak in Tiger wants to tell the world he is a crummy guy on his terms, with his spin, uninterrupted. The serial cad in Tiger will likely feel the need to express contrition for being human, of course, even if most humans are equipped with restraint buttons.
He'll reveal to the audience what they already know: He's a lout with a helluva swing. Apparently self-awareness was not part of Tiger's rehab during exile. In deciding when, where and how everyone will accommodate him, Tiger has brought his A-game again. A as in asinine -- or something like that.
"It's selfish," Ernie Els told Golfweek magazine. He was referring to how Woods is stealing attention from the players who will be in the middle of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona. Some golfers even joked that Woods' decision was motivated by revenge: Accenture scrubbed Tiger's image from its ads when the company with the slogan "We Know What it Takes to be a Tiger" severed ties with him. As Rory McIlroy put it, "I suppose he might want to get something back against the sponsor who dropped him. No, I don't know. It just went on for so long. I'm sick of hearing about it."
Beleaguered as they are, the golfers will live. They have other events, more paydays, with or without Tiger schooling them on the course. For most Winter Olympians, this is the only moment they have to break through the crowded sports landscape. This is their only chance to be seen and heard and celebrated after years of obscurity and sacrifice. When else are we going to give a little love to Johnny Spillane's silver in Nordic combined? But by 6 p.m. on Wednesday -- within hours of the press conference announcement -- Tiger had re-ignited the tabloids and landed on the front web pages of newspapers. In the New York Daily News, a "Tiger to Talk" headline led its site, upstaging Vonn's gold after a downhill run to remember and quickly relegated her triumph to an undercard event.
The Olympic athletes deserve a break, particularly those from the U.S. Over the years they've performed in front of global audiences that weren't especially warm to them. In Athens in 2004, Americans heard boos from crowds who held Bush's Iraq policy against them. In Turin in 2006, American athletes were ridiculed for being brawlers (aerialist Jeret Peterson was sent home after a fight), barflies (Miller) and betrayers (Johnny Weir wore a Russian sweatshirt). In Beijing two years ago, the Americans were battered for being bad guests when several cyclists arrived in smoggy China with masks over their faces. It's always been something -- until Vancouver. All things considered, the Americans have been having an incredible Olympics, and without incurring the wrath of the world. Little ole Canada is on the hook as the target of disdain for being the awkward self-promoter of its Own the Podium program and for hosting the Hinder Games. What could go wrong often has in Vancouver.
The Americans have been above it, hovering on clouds. The front-runners have lived up to incredible expectations by winning with grace, and a few unknowns have grabbed onto the magic carpet, too. "We've had great success," said Daron Rahlves, an elite American Alpine skier in Turin, Salt Lake and Nagano, who will be racing for the skicross team in Vancouver. "The ball is really rolling."
The Americans have earned their enthusiasm, and all the coverage and headlines that go with it. Now Tiger wants to eclipse their sunshine by crashing their bash with his own pity party. "An athlete of this level," Rogge said of Tiger, "must realize that his personal life is indelibly linked to his professional life."
The athletes in Vancouver seem to get this. The days of seeing the Americans through the prism of Olympians Behaving Badly have seemed a scene of the past at these Games. Then Tiger, the nation's gold-medal bad boy, surfaces, demanding equal time. Once again, Tiger couldn't help himself.