(UPDATED) As two years have passed, Sports Illustrated and the sports press in general again pretend to give a shit about the Olympics. This week, SI examines the state of American bobsleigh.

Two-page spread

We endure yet another mention of tight bobsleigh uniforms (how else are they supposed to dress – like Santy Claus?), but here’s the kicker:

Driving by feel is something [Steve Holcomb] has grown accustomed to, and not entirely by choice. Two years ago, before he became a world champion, Holcomb almost quit the sport because he had nearly gone blind. His vision had deteriorated to 20/500 from a degenerative eye condition called keratoconus in which the corneas bulge outward.

Well, how very interesting. I just had Canadian bobsledder dudes telling me it was really out of the question to put a blind man on the team, even if he was otherwise one of the lightning-fast giants they aren’t exactly churning out by the thousands on an assembly line. How would that guy drive the van around Europe, they asked rhetorically? He wouldn’t, I said. You’re going to bounce him from the team just for that? You’ve got three other guys who can drive, plus coaches and staff.

And, well, whaddya know: The driver of USA1 has been visually impaired all along. Check the pullquote on the next page:

In 2007, Holcomb almost quit the sport because he’d gone nearly blind

And they kept it a secret for seven years! As though there were something wrong with it. As though it were interfering with Holcomb’s game. The whole team came to rely on Holcomb’s driving while blind.

Now, maybe he’d had his bionic eyes plugged in for those latter results (SI: “Last year doctors implanted lenses made of a special polymer behind Holcomb’s irises”), an experimental operation he almost had to pay for himself. But the difference is immaterial. He drives with a fuzzed-over visor now and he’s been driving blind for seven years anyway. He never lost his place as captain of USA1.

USA Bobsled will accommodate the adventitious visual impairment of an athlete they already know can do the job, but it seems no bobsleigh federation wants to even try out an athlete who walks in the door half-blind. (Update, 2009.11.15: There may be a surprise coming through the pipeline from Alberta.)

How many guys do you know who could even lift one corner of a bobsleigh into a van? And people are worried about driving the van?

Can somebody tell me what kind of sense it makes to turn away talent in a sport whose physical demands ensure that only one in a million guys could even try out? Want to make that one in five million?

Are you trying to lose this thing or something? Not only can you put a blind guy in the sled, he can drive it. Why stop at just one?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.11.14 14:57. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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