The downhill is the premier Olympic event on snow, and it's the essence of pure sport. No heats, no qualifying round, no second run, no judges. One time straight down the mountain as fast as you can go, with a few twists, turns and jumps thrown in to keep you interested. The risk is great, but the reward is the most coveted gold medal a skier can win. It must take a special kind of dementia to embrace this task.
When I'm watching speed skating, it's sometimes hard to remember to watch the skaters and not the clock, as the split times come up. There's no danger of such distraction when watching the downhill. The athletes are performing so close to the edge of disaster that you don't dare take your eyes off them.
On the other hand, if you have TiVo, and if you remember that everything you're seeing took place at least three hours in the past anyway, you can always rewind and watch the thrilling parts as many times as you want. Even if you're watching it "live," you can pause in mid-run and rush off to the kitchen to drain your pasta.
The U.S. favorite, Daron Rahlves, had the advantage or disadvantage of starting after the top skiers. I wonder if it helped to see how his predecessors responded to the conditions. He knew he had to beat a fast time, and he was perilously out of control on the big jump. Maybe if he'd skied earlier he wouldn't have felt it necessary to take such risks.
And possibly if his expectations of success weren't so high, he wouldn't have tried to do more than he was capable of. He's been talking about not wanting to hear about his Austrian rivals, but he finished behind all of the Austrians as well as his American teammate Marco Sullivan.