Six Weeks Before the Opening Ceremony
“I’m not here to be a goddamn babysitter.”
“Yeah, well, neither am I. And he’s your fault.” Ted jabs afinger closer to my face than I care for. I don’t flinch, but I do wrinkle mynose.
Okay, he has me there. But that doesn’t mean I’m not goingto try to get out of this. If anyone else on the team were around, I wouldn’t,because I set an example. It’s what I do as the most senior member of theteam—hell as one of the most senior members of the entirety of Team USA, nevermind just the small corner that is downhill. But I’ve known Ted a long time andwe have an arrangement: I can speak to him as frankly as I’d like in private,as long as we present a united front in public. We’ve had a while to perfectthis arrangement, and it works well.
Except when he’s driving me crazy. I’m far more comfortablebeing the one who drives him crazy. Aren’t athletes supposed to be thetemperamental ones?
I try to look puppy dog–innocent, but just like you canalways tell when the damn dog ate the shoe, I’m sure he can see right throughme. But still, I say, “I wouldn’t go that far.”
Ted’s eyes bulge wide. “I would. I wasn’t going to take himbecause he’s too much of a wild card, but you were all, ‘He’s unpolished, buthe’s a phenomenal raw talent. Think what you could do with that.’”
His Miles impression is getting better all the time, and Idon’t know whether to be impressed or throw something in his self-satisfiedface. I suppose both isn’t out of the question. “Yes, and the key word was you.Not me. I just ski. That’s the only thing I’m good for. And to be fair, youhave done a great job with the kid. He’s improved his times, his technique isheading toward better, he shows up—”
Ted gives me a dark look. I was going to say “on time,” butwould’ve had to add too many qualifiers so instead, I extend a defensivefinger, daring him to argue. “He does show up now.”
“Yeah, but this is the Snow and Ice Games we’re talkingabout, not some bunny slope competition where everyone gets a participationtrophy. At this level, we pretty much expect you’ll not only show up but thatyou do it on time and ready—to train, or do press, or do whatever it is thatyou’re supposed to be doing, and this kid . . .” Ted shakes his head and blowsa frustrated breath out of his mouth, his cheeks puffing with the effort. “Whenhe shows up and when he listens, he’s great, but otherwise . . .”
Yeah, I know. Crash Delaney is a royal pain in my ass.
“I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve got six other skiers Ihave to deal with, and I don’t have time for this shit. So you can step up andtake responsibility for him, or I’m saying to hell with it and trading him infor Sully.”
Sully? Ugh, Sully. Brett Sullivan is a perfectly respectableskier. He’s also perfectly dull. No style, no flair, no oomph. The guy somehowmanages to make hurtling down a mountain at eighty miles per hour look boring,which is a talent in itself, but not one I’d ever want. He’s technically good,but god is he ever like the Red Delicious of downhill. Mealy and bland.
“Ted. You know Sully’s—”
Ted interrupts me with a hand up. “What I know is that Sullyis reliable, consistent, and he’s decent with the press. I know he doesn’t setthe place on fire and he’s never going to end up on the cover of any magazines.But he’s not going to embarrass us. He shows up on time, works hard, and takesinstruction well. All things being equal, he’s never going to beat Crash on theslopes, but things aren’t equal. Crash is a maverick, which is all well andgood on his best days, but on his worst I’m lucky if the kid can find the damnmountain. I can’t take that chance during the SIGs, because the committee willhave my ass. So it’s up to you, Palmer. Either he’s yours or he’s out. Yourcall, because I’m not making it.”
I hate it when Ted does this. This is what he gets paid thebig bucks for: making the tough calls. But I guess when you’re as old as I amand have been doing this for longer than some of your teammates have beenalive—Christ, that’s disheartening—you ought to have figured out yourpriorities. What comes first for me, what always has, is the good of the team.The good of the sport, the good of the Games, and in my own small way—becauseI’m never going to be a politician or join the military or really contribute tosociety at large in any other way—the good of my country.
Of course the calculations are more complicated than that. Inever wanted to be a coach, and this is why. Not only would considering thisshit be the right thing to do, it would also be my job. Also, athletes aretemperamental, I don’t want a piece of that. Right now, though, I still have tomake my call about Crash because Ted is making me. Bastard.
Will managing Crash be so consuming I tank my own chances atmedaling? Will his presence on the team mess with other people’s mojo? Will heset a bad example that some of the younger, more impressionable team memberswill be inclined to follow? Will his idiotic behavior and frankly poor personalgrooming habits present an unfavorable picture of alpine skiing to the world?
Or will his unconventional style and rags-to-riches story beinspiring to kids who don’t think they can afford to ski? Maybe win us backsome of the youth who would’ve switched to snowboarding because it’s “cooler”?I know he’s a better bet for a medal than Sully.
My brain isn’t going to be of much use here, because thereare as many tally marks in the pro column as there are in the con. So I tell myrational self to take a hike and for once I listen to my gut off the slopes.After all, that’s what’s gotten me down mountains in one piece for twenty-eightyears and with six gold medals around my neck to boot. I hope I don’t live toregret it.
Plus, while my gut has feelings about this, my heart hasmore. So many feelings, and my skier’s heart, the athlete and showman’s heart,beats only for one man right now. One irresponsible, shaggy-haired, walkingdisaster of a man.
“Don’t move Sully up. I’ll deal with Crash. I know he’ssupposed to be bunking with Hollingsworth, but now he’s rooming with me. Youtell him I’m not going to take any shit and he better listen to every word Isay because I can have his ass kicked back to Utah or Wyoming or Montana orwhatever snow pile he climbed out of.”
I am so, so going to regret this.