There is a lot more at stake in the Winter Olympics than winning gold medals for one's self and one's country. The real reason for holding the Olympics is to find new champions to do TV commercials.
While most of the world is watching the athletes for their skill and grace under pressure, there is a small group of men and women who are studying them to see if they have what it takes to do a 60-second commercial.
J. Walter Batten, who represents one of the largest advertising agencies in the United States, made me aware of this as we watched a downhill racing event on the super television screen in his den. "To me there is nothing as stirring in the world as a beautiful woman, dressed in a form-fitting stretch fabric, bent forward, plunging down a treacherous mountain, racing against the wind, risking her gorgeous neck to find the invisible red line and, finally, after getting to the bottom of the hill, ripping off her goggles, looking into the camera and saying, 'The thing we skiers worry about the most is chapped lips. Thanks to Crackproof, we don't have to worry anymore.'"
It's sheer poetry," I told Batten. "What's your favorite Winter Olympic sport?"
"It's hard to say," he replied. "There are so many of them, and they each have something to offer. For sheer danger, I guess I'm partial to the bobsled. I can never get enough of the four-man teams who, without any regard for their own safety, take the dangerous curves and straightaways at 90 miles an hour, knowing that just one mistake could send them flying off the edge in a jumble of broken bones and concussions."
"That really turns you on?" I asked.
"No. Not that part of it. What excites me is the thought of putting a camera on their sled and filming the run. Then once they reach the bottom, they all go into the ski lodge and order four steins of beer. I want them laughing and pounding each other on the shoulders and having a good time, while the music comes up and a voice-over says, 'When the race with death is done, it's nice to know the thrill is still there in a Mogen's beer.'"
"I think I'm going to cry," I told Batten. "How do you feel about figure skating?"
"It has its place, if you've got the right client. I have to monitor the figure skating this year because I want to find a couple who have grace and dazzle. What we want to do is put a Quartex watch on the woman skater, and then have her partner swing her around by the legs in an arc, force her into a flying sit-spin, then have her do a double loop and, finally, fling her across the length of the ice-rink, and have her hand on her wrist. Then we'll zoom in on the watch to prove it is still working and hasn't lost a second."
"No wonder everyone tries so hard to win a gold medal in figure skating," I said. "Do you have any interest in cross-country skiing?"
"Not really. Cross-country skiers don't sell anything for you. I don't know why the Winter Olympic Committee even bothers with them."