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8 Upper

SLC Punk

By Tom Scocca | Posted 2/13/2002

Oh, that Jonny Moseley! The 1998 gold-medal freestyle mogul skier, who deployed the legendary 360 mute-grab in his victory in Nagano, Japan, wowed the Olympic journalists in Salt Lake City with word of his newest and craziest aerial stunt, a judge-stumper he'd dubbed the "dinner roll 900." Moseley had launched a few dinner rolls in international competition already, only to receive brutally low marks for them--because, he told the Orlando Sentinel, the scorers were plagued by "ignorance and fear."

For a press corps that remembers trying to squeeze usable quotes out of the likes of Nancy Kerrigan, this is pure platinum--more precious than Olympic gold, by a good $170 per ounce. Moseley, The Washington Post's Liz Clarke slurped this past weekend, "is the willful child who colors outside the lines . . . the jazz musician who hears singular riffs in his head . . . the seminal rock-and-roller whose hip gyrations . . . strike the establishment as scandalous." Yow! Moseley harbors such contempt for the Man, he swore to throw the dinner roll in competition, even if it cost him the gold medal. "I'm not going to cater to what they may want or want to judge with their button-down standards," he told The New York Times.

True, when it came to the business of actually qualifying for the games, Moseley shelved the dinner roll and did the orthodox tricks the grownups wanted to see. There's no point in being the most extremely extreme mogul skier in the world if you're doing it by yourself in your garret. But once he'd secured a place in Salt Lake City for himself and his sponsors, Moseley stood firm: dinner roll or bust.

Sadly, City Paper went to press before the men's freestyle mogul competition. But I tuned in to the women's event this past weekend, where I saw Norway's Kari Traa rumbling down the egg-carton slope, keeping her knees together, holding her form, and striking poses in midair on her way to the gold medal. Oh, I thought, it's like figure skating, only in cargo pants.

"Figure skating" is also how Moseley has described his sport, derisively--as in, those stodgy judges want to turn us into figure skaters. Which shows just how sharp the free-spirited freestyler is: Extreme skiing, see, is not like that old Olympic stuff. The true spirit of freestyle is to leap around and perform crowd-pleasing tricks. Unlike those figure skaters, who . . . leap around and perform crowd-pleasing tricks.

As to which form of jumping around is more pleasing, I can't say. Figure skaters are impressive athletes; years ago, I had the chance to see some of them off-duty, performing incredible feats with a beer keg. But the spectacle of the skating itself? I bow to the judgment of Mrs. 8 Upper, whose background is in ballet, and who therefore watches skaters capering to music the way Bill Walton might watch a game of donkey basketball, played under old Iowa split-court six-on-six girls' rules.

Freestyle moguls has less Broadway in its presentation, and speed at least counts for part of the score. But it still comes down to the judging. Which is the hallmark of bad sports. If I want to see contestants rewarded for posture, conformation, and je ne sais quoi, I'll flip over to the Westminster Kennel Club show--which is actually counterprogrammed against the Olympics, in a great bit of timing. The spark in the eye of a champion bichon frise, it turns out, is exactly the spark in the eye of someone who just stuck a triple toe loop or a helicopter iron cross.

All of which makes me long to see a nice, honest game of curling. Why must everybody make fun of the curlers? Their game is slow, but it's not easy. It combines the trickiest parts of bowling and pool, both of which people have been willing to watch on television. And it's simple to understand: closest stones to the button count. It even builds to a dramatic climax, on the last stone of every frame (or "end," in curling-speak). The plot line's right out there on the ice.

As opposed to the theatrics of Jonny Moseley. How lucky for him, and for the world of freestyle skiing, that an Extreme Sports Establishment should have arisen just in time for the athletes to defy it, to keep themselves out of the mainstream. It pains me to question the countercultural credentials of the ski rebels--these avant-garde artists who grew up with lift tickets pinned to their jackets--but their good-time attitude, with their airy indifference to the medals, somehow seems to perfectly embody the founding spirit of the Olympics. By which I mean the spirit of the old gentlemen athletes, heading off on ocean liners for a festival of esoteric sport, with amateurs-only rules that kept the paycheck-to-paycheck folks in steerage from joining the fun.

Oh, the athletes get paid now. Getting paid has long since lost its social stigma. Frank commerce is just a form of self-expression. Remember when players on the original Dream Team draped American flags to cover the Reebok logos on their Team U.S.A. warmups, out of respect for their personal deals with Nike? Moseley did them one better, ditching his team uniform at a press conference so he could wear his sponsors' logos instead--a fact the Times reported as further evidence of his "individualism."

But nobody's going to pull a Jim Thorpe on Moseley. He collects money in ways the first modern Olympians never dreamed of, up to and including royalties from Jonny Moseley Mad Trix on the Playstation 2. If he lands the dinner roll 900 in competition, whether the judges like it or not, it's probably going to get programmed into Mad Trix II. You'll just have to push the right buttons.

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