The 2018 Winter Olympics are history, but their dramatic comeback stories will resonate for years.
Who will forget 18-year-old U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen’s redemptive third act—a near-flawless long program filled with a record six quad jumps—following his stumble-and-tumble-filled two short programs just days earlier? Or Lindsey Vonn’s triumphant Olympic swan song, which saw the injury-prone athlete become the oldest women’s Alpine skiier to medal (she took bronze) at age 33?
Last weekend, while pondering how they fought past the pain to achieve greatness, I wondered, do we all have an inner Olympian—that indomitable, troubles-take-a-hike spirit that can transcend the hurt and fear to succeed against all odds—just waiting to break out?
I began my journey to answering this question hours later while throwing my back out during the Olympic event known as picking something up off the damn floor.
An Icy Hot patch and Roseanne marathon tricked my sensory neurons into forgetting my stabbing spasms. During the commercial breaks, though, the real healing work began as I painfully recalled my total, lifelong lack of athleticism, aided and abetted by my love for television.
My smooth moves in childhood sports and other events requiring basic bodily coordination can be pretty much summed up by this Jack Tripper skating gif.
Fortunately, Roseanne soon resumed, and I was reunited again with two of my favorite TV uplifters—perennial malapropist Mark Healy and figure skating champ Scott Hamilton. Suddenly, visions of tragically awkward sitcom clowns danced in my head—as they often do when I’m in deep need of soothing relief—and I realized that we, the athletically uninclined, are not alone.
As I contemplated the whole “inner Olympian” thing, I began to realize that some of our favorite sitcom klutzes are essentially the every(wo)man versions of Olympic greats. As such, they, too, deserve special recognition for inspiring the gawky and graceless among us to do our damnedest to grasp that Olympic torch and keep it lit—no matter how many times we drop it, trip over it, and then pick it up again by the hot end.
Olympic gold: Nathan Chen. This teenage wunderkind, famous for landing a stunning five quad jumps in one routine, returned from the brink of Olympic devastation after uncharacteristically losing his footing and his confidence during his two short programs in Pyeongchang. Chen even threw in a sixth quad during his mesmerizing free-skate long program, bringing him from 17th place to 5th overall. Gold is his to win in 2022.
Sitcomic gold: Mark Healy (with an assist from Scott Hamilton).
Proving that some heroes don’t wear skates (or sequined Lycra)—they wear socks—Roseanne‘s resident doofus demonstrates that even the most ill-equipped among us can glide with the greats. For Mark (artfully played by the late Glenn Quinn) this means holding his own (beer) alongside figure skating icon Hamilton in the new Olympic sport of linoleum sock skating. Somebody give this man a Michelob Gold, because he’s given us hope that we, too, may one day master a new as-seen-on-TV-Land Olympic sport.
Olympic gold: Lindsey Vonn. After snapping a tendon while jumping up to answer the phone when I was 33, I grew so tired of life’s figurative mountains that I couldn’t muster a yodel watching the Cliffhangers game on The Price is Right. But not Lindsey. No siree, Vonn. This phenom won Olympic gold in 2010, and after a series of injuries—which, according to The Denver Post, ranged “from a fractured ankle to a thumb sliced on a bottle of bubbly, from broken arm bones to torn knee ligaments”—she returned to Mount Olympus (technically, the slopes of Pyeongchang) to capture a hard-fought bronze. If determination and grit were deciding factors, she would’ve stood at the top of the podium.
Sitcomic gold: Jack Tripper.
The King of Sitcom Klutzes, Three’s Company‘s Jack Tripper—embodied by the late Emmy-winning actor John Ritter—lived up to his name and then some, especially when it came to athletic endeavors. In hopes of helping him impress a beautiful blonde in the episode “Downhill Chaser,” roommate Janet (Joyce DeWitt) teaches him how to be slick on the slopes. Lesson number one: Learn how to stand on skis. And doing a kick-turn on these wooden death sticks? Hide your potted plants! As poor Jack contorts his body (“Janet, something bad is happening!”), we hurt for him … in a gut-busting kind of way. Despite his Johnfoolery, in the end he gets the girl … and we get another Sitcomic Gold performance, along with the courage to dream that our clumsiness may one day yield love and accolades as well.
Olympic gold: Alex and Maia Shibutani. This winsome brother-and-sister team—alias “The Shib Sibs,” or, as the ’70s kid in me fondly calls them, “Shibutani and Marie”—ice danced to Olympic bronze in their footloose free dance routine. But the Washington Post stated that they should have tied for gold, and I couldn’t agree more. This charismatic twosome’s program to Coldplay’s “Paradise” was a technical and creative powerhouse.
Sitcomic gold: Ellen Morgan and Adam Greene.
Bookstore owner Ellen Morgan (played by the inimitable Ellen DeGeneres) wants to fulfill her childhood dream by playing the lead in her ballet class recital. Despite have two left feet, she finally gets her chance when the lead ballerina sprains her back while showing off backstage. With the help of her roommate Adam—who took ballet classes in college—the ever-awkward thirtysomething gives new meaning to the word “graceful” when she bumbles and leaps through an enchanted forest. As the play’s befuddled director, Peter, says, “This isn’t my choreography … it’s better! Dance, Ellen! Dance!,” the most uncoordinated among us learn that, with the right outlook and a few so-wrong-they’re-right moves, we can enchant our way to victory!
Olympic gold: The Battle of the Brians. Their rivalry reached epic heights at the 1988 Winter Olympics, due in large part to their years-long history of fierce figure-skating competition … and due in no small part to the fact that they shared the same first names. But U.S. skater Brian Boitano and Canadian skater Brian Orser made history when their near-perfect long programs left judges at odds over whom to name the winner. A tiebreaker based on technical scores gave Boitano gold in a 5-4 win.
Sitcomic gold: Balki and Cousin Larry.
If pairs figure pushing was an Olympic sport, the Battle of the Cousins would be the ticket of the century. “Cousins” Larry and Balki (the evenly matched Mark Linn-Baker and Boitano doppleganger Bronson Pinchot) doubled up on Jack Tripper’s ski-lesson silliness in the two-part Perfect Strangers episode “Snow Way to Treat a Lady.” (This time, Larry is trying to impress a beautiful blonde with his supposed ski talents.) These hilarious ski acrobatics are something even the most perfectly strange “athletes”-in-training/accidents-waiting-to-happen can attempt on our journey to pretending to be Olympic material.
Olympic gold: Elana Meyers Taylor. This three-time Olympian won her second Olympic silver with bobsleigh partner Lauryn Williams while suffering a tear in her Achilles. Her bobsled steering required power, focus, and stamina, and she delivered with a TORN ACHILLES. Really, must anything else be said here? Give her and Lauryn the gold already!
Sitcomic gold: Laverne DeFazio.
Before Penny Marshall directed silver-screen hits such as Big, A League of Their Own, and Awakenings, she helped steer the slapsticky Laverne & Shirley to sitcomic gold. In the episode “Supermarket Sweep,” Laverne guides a shopping cart (with a nice assist from Cindy “Shirley” Williams) on a frantic shopping spree. Her totally unathletic skills net her free groceries galore. In this process, she reminds the stamina-challenged that we, too, can climb to semi-great heights and stay the course for five agonizing minutes if complimentary pasta is at stake.
Olympic gold: Apolo Ohno and Hershey’s Gold. This eight-time Olympic medalist—the most decorated American Winter Olympian in history—retired in 2010, but he continues to score golden endorsements. This year, the short track speed skating legend had fun with his iconic bandana-and-soul-patch image by touting the sweet taste of an equally All-American chocolatier heavyweight’s newest confection, Hershey’s Gold.
Sitcomic gold: Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory.
“No other sitcom will ever reach the Olympian stature of I Love Lucy,” John Ritter once told me. He was right. So we end this uplifting journey with Queen of Comedy Lucille Ball and comic co-conspirator Vivian Vance showing us that, while we’ll never be as fast and agile as Apolo Ohno or Alana Meyers, the goofiest among us can handle what life throws us at—even if it’s conveyor-belt chocolates at lightning speed. We may not find the golden ticket in events requiring quick and consistent hand-eye/foot-eye coordination, but we can all aspire to cram life’s box of chocolates in our mouths with the best of ’em.
Thanks to this Olympics-inspired, healing stroll down sitcomedy lane, I’ve (re)discovered that we do, indeed, all have an inner Olympian buried deep within us, at least in spirit. And while some of us might secretly hope to be the next Nathan Chen or Lindsey Vonn, I think it’s safe to say many more of us have aspired to just get up off our pratfallen butts, learn to laugh at ourselves, and keep dreaming whatever dream we have—athletic or otherwise—like our favorite TV klutzes.
At the end of the day, if Jack Tripper, Laverne DeFazio, and that Brian Boitano-doppleganging Balki Bartokomous can get back up and keep putting one left foot in front of the other to pursue their heart’s desires, then, dammit, we can all reach the top of our respective podiums—even if it takes a TV Land marathon and a tub of Icy Hot to do so.