My mom doesn’t watch sports, but she loves the Olympics. She has my dad TiVo every event and does her best to watch all of them, which meant that last night, while spending the weekend at my parents’ place to celebrate my dad’s birthday — happy birthday, dad! — I watched some Olympics, too. They were great. We watched curling, and it turns out the American curlers is young and hip, which I didn’t expect at all. We watched luge, and the luge people all went so fast we couldn’t tell who was good at luge and who sucked. We watched the ice dancing, and we, too, became emotionally invested in the Shib Sibs. Everything was perfect, even when it was boring, because that is the point of the Olympics.
Have you ever thought about how figure skating and snowboarding seem to require a lot of similar physical skills? I hadn’t, until the Olympics made me think about it by showing ice skating both before and after the slopestyle snowboard competition. To excel at either, one must have balance, precise control at high speeds, and the ability to spin around in the air really fast. And in order to possess full power over these skills, it helps to be a teen.
That was the main takeaway as I watched the 17-year-old Red Gerard become the first American medalist this year, winning the gold medal in the slopestyle snowboarding event, by being one of the few snowboarders who didn’t fall while attempting to spin around in the air a bunch of times. While Gerard waited for the rest of the field to attempt their runs, the cameras kept cutting to Gerard’s dad, who seemed to never not be holding a beer. After Max Parrot, the 23-year-old Canadian who ended up in second place, stuck the landing on his final jump, my mom and I both shrieked.
Olympic sports involving judges seem inherently unfair, no matter how much expertise those judges may bring. Despite not having a whiff of evidence to back it up, I firmly believe judges decide who wins not just on technical skill or mastery over one’s sport, but by how compelling a story they can create with their scores. As we watched Gerard wait to hear if the judges would award Parrot a score higher than the 87.16 he’d notched in his final run, it seemed that the question of which snowboarder would come out on top was that of narrative: Would it be more dramatic to let the teen who came out of nowhere walk away with the gold, or would snatching the gold medal from his still-developing jaws and handing it to the adult make him even hungrier the next time they showed snowboarding on prime-time network television?
When Max Parrot was awarded an 86, we got our answer. As the American snowboard team gathered around Gerard to celebrate his victory, the world got an amazing lesson in why you should not put young people in range of a microphone during a live event. Before NBC’s producers had a chance to cut the audio feed, one of Gerard’s exuberant teammates had yelled “What the fuck, dude!” and another added, “Holy fuck!” The whole affair felt like a auditory mirage, and by the time my parents and I could process that two snowboarders had just yelled the f-word on network TV, the cameras had cut to host Mike Tirico in a studio, as he apologized profusely to viewers.
There didn’t seem to be too much of a point in doing that, though — in this context, the use of “fuck” didn’t scan as offensive, and instead like an expression of inward joy. Even Charlie Daniels, the “Devil Went Down to Georgia” singer who moonlights as a far-right Twitter egg guy and reflexively hates anything that might appeal to liberals and/or young people, took a break from complaining that the media thought that Fidel Castro was “the greatest thing since canned snuff” to get psyched on Gerrard’s victory, fucks be damned.
17 year old Red Gerrard bringing gold back to Colorado.— Charlie Daniels (@CharlieDaniels) February 11, 2018
Way to go Kid, you just got America on its feet.
Adorably, in a pre-event press conference, Gerard claimed that he was largely unfamiliar with the Olympics. To be fair, they have not been very many Olympic Games in his lifetime, and besides, the Olympics are something that you’re supposed to watch with your parents. Teens instinctively distrust stuff like that.
Gerard's Olympic triumph is a triumph for teens everywhere, a reminder that despite the fact that adults often don't understand teens and teens often don't understand us, the world will not explode when it is in their hands. It’s totally possible to carry on a tradition despite not knowing how you yourself fit within that tradition. It’s totally possible to yell the word “fuck” and for it to come across as adorable. It’s totally possible to do teen stuff — namely, performatively almost breaking your neck — for the honor of your country and make even an aging alt-right cowboy singer proud. I am rapidly growing too old to understand anything about the youth, but I believe that it’s totally possible that they’re going to be okay.
Red Gerard, if you’re reading this on the special gold smart phone that I assume they give all the gold medalists these days, go forth and shred so that we may be saved.