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Before the Winter Olympics at Albertville are put to rest, I offer one last comment on America's competitors.

It isn't the years of discipline that keep most Americans from competing. It isn't the physical superiority of athletes, the sacrifices they must make or the pain they must endure. It's Spandex.How many people do you know who are willing to pour themselves into an elastic tube and turn sideways before millions of television viewers?

Every time I watch a downhill skier, I am dazzled by the fact that the Olympics are able to assemble enough people to appear in varicose-vein body suits for the competition. (Don't try this in your own home or you could lose the sight of a good eye.)

I find most of the events prohibitive for average Americans. Take the luge. Please. Luge is a French word for Looney Tune. A sled carries a rider on his back down a chute of ice at 80 miles an hour. There are only a handful of women who would or could wear the speed suit: a skin-tight apparel with no buttons, zippers or decorations and a 30-pound lead vest to compress the chest. I don't know any of them personally.

My choice for a speed-skating outfit would havebeen a little peplum deal to cover the condo thighs that come with the sport, but no. It's more Spandex. I should be cheered to know I have the same thigh girth as Dan Jansen, but I'm 5 feet 2 inches.

I don't know how Spandex got to be the uniform of athletes, but its infiltration is insidious. One day we were looking at baseball players who wore bloomers that swirled around their legs like vacuum sweeper bags, and the next thing you know their pants were so tight, they couldn't hold a plug of tobacco.

Tennis players and basketball players supported the trend with Spandex under their shorts. But it is the Olympics that have catapulted the fabric to world-class status, thus limiting the events to the few, the proud . . . the flat.

Finding enough Americans who can hold in their stomachs through an entire event takes away our competitive edge at a time when we could use a shot of world dominance. I hate to look to Japan for the answer, but look at their entries. Are they laminated into suits that take them down mountains and cross country and through tunnels of ice?

They're probably sending 700-pound sumo wrestlers to Barcelona and letting it all hang out.

1992 Erma Bombeck

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate