I experienced the thrill of victory without the agony of de veep at the 90-meter ski jump in Courchevel on Sunday, and a couple of other things as well.
I saw a man who couldn't jump bail in two previous Olympic Games win the gold medal: Twenty-seven-year-old Ernst Vettori of Austria finished 36th in Sarajevo in 1984 and 28th in Calgary in '88 before finally finishing first in France.
I missed Vice-President Dan Quayle: He showed up at Courchevel a day before the competition.
I heard danke sch‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√án so often I expected to see Wayne Newton: All afternoon, humble Austrians like Vettori, silver medalist Martin H‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√állwarth and fourth-place finisher Heinz Kuttin were accepting congratulations for their monstrous leaps and superior style points.
February 17, 1992
I saw Edwin Moses, though I didn't expect to: The Olympic hurdler and bobsledophile, wearing a smart tan parka and purple pants, popped by the press pen for no apparent reason. He then regaled the international scribes with an unsolicited State of the Edwin address.
I right away recognized the electronic tone that sounded whenever the next jumper was free to leave the starting chute: It's the same bing-beeng you hear when your airline captain illuminates the FASTEN SEAT BELT sign. And that sonic signal is appropriate because....
I noticed that more than half the 58 athletes competing used the newfangled V-style of jumping, in which a wide V is formed with the skis, rather than the classical style, in which the skis are kept together and parallel. "The V works just like an airplane." said U.S. jumper John Langlois. "You take off with the wind."
I hoped I'd never fly the same airline as Langlois, because his two jumps were good for 28th place. (Jim Holland, the highest-placing American, finished 13th.)
I came, I saw, I...couldn't help but notice that the V, pioneered three years ago by a Swede named Jan Boklov, was employed by the top four finishers, including, obviously, Vettori, who adopted it last summer. V-ni, V-di, V-ci.
I wondered if this meant the end of ski jumping as we once knew it. "Yes." said bronze medalist Toni Nieminen of Finland. "I do think this is the end of the old style." So, then, all of this is what I saw at the revolution.
I saw no agony of defeat-caliber wipe-outs, nor anyone so much as fall, but I did see a sign in the gallery that inquired WHERE'S EDDIE? I then heard that ski jumping novelty item Eddie (the Eagle) Edwards has filed for bankruptcy in his native England, having squandered the estimated $630,000 windfall reaped from his '88 Olympic appearance. Say ya ain't broke, bloke.
I felt old enough (speaking of England) to be the Queen Mother's father: H‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√állwarth is 17 and Nieminen is only 16. How would Austrian army corporal Vettori feel when flanked by these whiskerless teens on the medals stand? "Old," he assured us.
The Alps were in the background, the sky was clear, and the sun was setting behind the ski jump at the close of the competition, casting a kind of orange glow across the four-tiered gingerbread village of Courchevel. I remember how the glow looked like the Austrian jumpers' traffic-cone-colored uniforms, and I remember thinking. That's exactly the way it should be.